Jeffery W. Runge is leaving as the top regulator of the tire industry for an important job in Homeland Security. Too bad.
In an administration that is either "positive in its convictions" or "arrogant," depending upon your political persuasion, Runge seemed different. I guess it´s pretty obvious-the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a doctor, not a politico.
I heard him speak once at a Rubber Manufacturers Association meeting. Most of what he said made perfectly good sense to me, even if I didn´t agree with all of it.
He´d spent a career in emergency medicine, and as the government official in charge of preventing injury and death on the highways, he has no love for motorcycles and pushed hard for states to pass laws to force all motorists to wear seat belts.
He´s right, bikes are dangerous. But I do love them, even if I haven´t owned one since my kids were born (I never wanted them to see me on a bike, and then go out and emulate Dad). And seat belts: I always use them and believe you´d be a fool not to, but-note the inconsistency-if adults want to put their lives at risk without endangering anyone else, be my guest.
Still, Runge sounded very logical, even amiable. The kind of doctor you wouldn´t mind going to. He practiced his bedside manner with the tire industry to good effect.
During Runge´s reign the tire business underwent the largest wholesale regulatory change since the days of Joan Claybrook as NHTSA administrator during the Jimmy Carter presidency. After the huge negative publicity of the Firestone SUV tires/Ford Explorer accidents, Congress ordered implementation of the massive TREAD Act.
The regulations spawned by that legislation still are being hammered out. But tire pressure monitoring systems, early warning notification for recalls and the first revision of federal tire safety standards in more than three decades were enacted during Runge´s watch.
Lots of powerful entities lined up against the tire industry as NHTSA worked to improve tire safety rules: Congressmen out for publicity; ambulance-chasing lawyers; auto makers trying to pass the blame onto the tire companies for accidents.
All said and done, though, the tire manufacturers are surviving the TREAD Act. While some on the dealer end aren´t too happy with him, the tire makers and their representatives don´t feel drawn and quartered by NHTSA under Runge, as they did during the Claybrook era.
He gave the tire industry a fair shake. Who could ask for more?
Noga is editor of Rubber & Plastics News. His e-mail address is [email protected]