A new international pact that could standardize auto safety rules around the world worries some American insurance and consumer groups, who say the deal could jeopardize safety on U.S. roads.
Government regulators support the agreement the United States is set to sign next week in Geneva. Domestic automakers long have pushed for the deal, saying it would lower their production costs in a global industry without sacrificing safety.The agreement creates a framework for countries to replace each of their auto safety rules with a global standard if they want.
The American Insurance Association, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and Public Citizen contend the United States could be forced to abide by weaker regulations. They also are concerned the agreement could restrict the ability of Washington regulators to act on their own.
"Instead of raising the bar on safety, it might be maintained or lowered," said Dave Snyder of the American Insurance Association, a trade group representing about 300 insurers. "It's a sleeper issue now, but it could dramatically change the whole landscape down the road."
But government officials say the agreement will help achieve better safety regulations, not sacrifice them.
"The opportunity here is to improve safety by finding the best practices (among nations) and speeding them to the American public," said Ricardo Martinez, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Federal officials say countries signing the framework agreement each have veto power over any proposals for uniform safety regulations.
The so-called framework agreement would allow countries to advertise their auto safety regulations in a common forum under the United Nations and to work to achieve common regulations - one at a time. Among the countries expected to sign the agreement on June 25 are the United States, countries in the European Union and Japan.
Safety regulations cover many areas of automobile design. Governments conduct crash tests of vehicles and regulate everything from auto body strength to seat belts and headrests.