WASHINGTON-Dr. Ricardo Martinez pledged to balance safety, environmental and energy issues as National Highway Traffic Safety administrator during his April 21 confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee. ``The agency's role is to increase (vehicle) fuel economy without safety suffering,'' Dr. Martinez said when asked about that issue. He added it would be ``an exciting area of study'' to survey new materials and technologies that could optimize both vehicle safety and fuel efficiency.
In a set of answers to pre-hearing questions posed by the committee, Dr. Martinez said he believed mandating increased fuel economy and maintaining vehicle safety are not necessarily incompatible.
``I am aware that some have seen tension between these goals, and I will make it a priority to examine this issue closely,'' he said.
Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., Dr. Martinez's sole questioner during the hearing, was obviously pleased with his answers on fuel economy. Mr. Bryan is the chief sponsor of legislation to mandate corporate average fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon by 2001.
Jerry R. Curry, NHTSA administrator during most of the Bush administration, adamantly opposed the Bryan bill.
The only way to achieve 40 mpg fuel economy by 2001, he insisted, was by downsizing-which would reduce vehicle safety.
Tire manufacturers, like automakers, dislike the Bryan bill. Tire makers fear they will be asked to make rolling resistance reductions greater than technological and safety considerations will allow.
Before the hearing, Dr. Martinez said he has not had the chance to meet with representatives of the major tire companies.
Dr. Martinez, 39, is currently associate director of the Center for Injury Control at the Emory University School of Public Health. He is an acknowledged expert in the prevention and treatment of injuries caused by automobile accidents.
When his nomination was announced, Dr. Martinez came under fire for having served as a consultant to General Motors Corp. in a court case involving side-mounted fuel tanks on GM pickup trucks. The issue was resolved, however, when Dr. Martinez said he would recuse himself from any NHTSA consideration of those fuel tanks.
At presstime, the Senate Commerce Committee had not set a date to vote on Dr. Martinez's nomination.
If, as is generally expected, the committee confirms Dr. Martinez, the nomination will go to the full Senate.