WASHINGTON-Dr. Ricardo Martinez, an internationally renowned expert on the prevention and treatment of auto crash injuries, is the Clinton administration's nominee as National Highway Traffic Safety administrator. Although Dr. Martinez's past activities as a consultant on General Motors Corp.'s side in a pickup truck product liability case became public soon after his nomination, the White House and auto safety advocates publicly reaffirmed their faith in him. Little opposition is expected during his Senate confirmation hearings early in 1994.
Dr. Martinez's nomination has not yet been sent to the Senate, but Transportation Secretary Federico Pe¤a issued a press release Dec. 3 praising the choice of Dr. Martinez as administrator.
``As a trauma care specialist, Dr. Martinez understands that one of the easiest and most efficent ways to reduce health care costs is to promote safety improvements and responsible driving,'' Mr. Pe¤a said. ``Dr. Martinez will have a major influence on national efforts to further improve the safety of the motoring public, and I can think of no one who is better qualified for the job.''
The Rubber Manufacturers Association and the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, however, are silent about Dr. Martinez. ``I know his background, but what he will do as a regulator has yet to be seen,'' said Thomas Cole, RMA president.
Dr. Martinez, 38, recently became associate director of the Center for Injury Control at Emory University in Atlanta. He previously served as acting medical director of the Medical Transport Program at Stanford University Hospital. He had been discussed for months as Mr. Clinton's first choice to head NHTSA.
On Dec. 9, the Detroit Free Press reported Dr. Martinez had been a paid consultant for Failure Analysis Associates, a Menlo Park, Calif., engineering consultant, in its work for GM on the issue of C/K pickups.
NHTSA is investigating the safety of 1973-87 GM C/K pickups, because the trucks allegedly catch fire in side impact collisions. The automaker lost a $105 million product liability suit in the case of Shannon Moseley, a Georgia teenager who died in a C/K pickup accident, and the company has refused a NHTSA recommendation to voluntarily recall the trucks.
Dr. Martinez was called in by Failure Analysis to resolve apparent contradictions in the Moseley autopsy and accident report, as well as other C/K cases, according to Failure Analysis CEO Roger McCarthy.
In most of those cases, Dr. Martinez probably didn't even know the identity of the client or the vehicles, Mr. McCarthy said.
After the Free Press report, the White House reaffirmed its support for Dr. Martinez, calling him ``one of the best-qualified individuals ever to be considered for the post of NHTSA administrator.''