Drew Lewis, the Secretary of Transportation has submitted his letter of resignation to President Ronald Reagan after serving 23 months. In that period he has wrecked more havoc on the Department’s crucial safety responsibilities and programs than all of his predecessors combined back to 1968.
In early 1981, after being in office less than a month, he told a group of auto dealers that there would be no auto safety standards issued in the following four years. That remark was tantamount to tearing up part of his oath of office to enforce the laws. I cannot recall a single Cabinet official ever making a remark like that, but Mr. Lewis went on to repeat it in May before a House of Representatives Subcommittee.
His unethical prejudgment of his sworn duties under the auto safety laws proved to be true to form. The auto safety program has been virtually destroyed. Proposed standards carefully thought through by past Republican and Democratic Administrations were scrapped. One concerned making fields of view in automobiles better for motorists to see while driving.
Already issued life-saving standards did not escape Lewis’ desire to serve General Motors. The all-important crash protection standard — a product of twelve years work by the Department — was revoked just before the engineers were about to apply it to new cars. Properly indignant, major insurance companies filed suit in federal court challenging the Secretary’s revocation as arbitrary and capricious.
Lewis revoked another standard requiring 5mph bumper protection in a crash. He is now allowing the auto companies to sell you cars with only 2 1/2mph bumper protection which will cost motorists more in repair and insurance bills. He has set in motion the dumping of the tire quality grading standard that gives consumers some measures of the kind of tires they’re buying. He even has eliminated a simple detection standard that would have left a mark showing illegal odometer rollbacks to facilitate enforcement of this law.
In the aviation area, Drew Lewis endorsed the withdrawal of ten safety proposals made by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) prior to his arrival. These proposals dealt with commuter pilot flying time per week and fatigue, electrical equipment for public warning systems and periodic review of aircraft design. He denied one petition from safety groups to require life vests to be carried on all aircraft traveling over water and another dealing with emergency medical equipment. The FAA no longer takes seriously long -time proposals to improve aircraft fire suppressants, to diminish the release of toxic gases from burning upholstery materials and to strengthen the anchorage of aircraft seats. Many airline casualties occur on takeoff and landing where such proven crash-worthiness would be very important.
Lewis leaves an air traffic control system with morale, stress and fatigue problems. He leaves the flying public with many inexperienced controllers coming to work to take the place of the striking controllers permanently deprived of their jobs. Some observers believed that Lewis acted with vengeance rather than with wisdom. Had he simply punished the strikers for a few months or with fines, instead of destroying their careers, he would not be jeopardizing his primary duty of assuring the safety of the skies for millions of passengers.
More recently, Lewis worked the 5 per gallon gas tax bill through Congress. He said it was necessary to repair highways and bridges. But in the same bill, there is a provision over-ruling states and localities that restrict the size of trucks on their roads. Now under the Lewis law, you will be seeing moving through cities and towns more hazardous multi-trailer trucks in states now prohibiting them. These larger and heavier trucks (up to 65 feet) will eat up much of the 5G gas tax revenue in greater highway repairs. Larger trucks have also meant larger highway casualty rates. Tragically, Lewis has made no effort to improve truck braking standards which are sorely in need of strengthening.
Drew Lewis’ wife once remarked that when he makes a decision, he never has any regrets. Unfortunately, the regrets will be in the minds of the victims or next of kin who were not protected by the safety laws Drew Lewis refused to implement.