Amidst Safety Crackdown, NHTSA Comes Under Fire

“Significant safety concerns (are) being overlooked.”

by on Jun.22, 2015

Mark Rosekind, NHTSA's new administrator, will testify before a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

In the wake of a series of fatal safety problems, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has promised to crack down on the auto industry. But NHTSA itself is expected to come under fire for its own lapses.

Published reports indicate the agency charged with regulating automotive safety fell short in a variety of ways in recent years, among other things failing to uncover the ignition switch problem at General Motors that led to more than 110 deaths.

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“Collectively, these weaknesses have resulted in significant safety concerns being overlooked,” says a harsh, 42-page report by the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General, which is expected to be published on Friday.

Its official release will follow a hearing on auto safety to be held tomorrow by the Senate Commerce Committee. Among those called to testify are Inspector General Calvin Scovel and NHTSA’s new Administrator Mark Rosekind. During his confirmation hearings Rosekind promised to make changes at the agency and now says he will “aggressively implement” the auditor’s 17 major recommendations by next June, according to the Detroit News.

Each years, millions of vehicles are recovered due to a variety of safety problems, but the total surged to more than 60 million in 2014, more than double the previous record

There have been an unusual number of high profile cases recently, including an ongoing series of recalls triggered by faulty Takata airbags and fires involving Jeeps. But NHTSA has taken particular heat for failing to uncover problems with various General Motors vehicles equipped with faulty ignition switches. The maker recalled 2.6 million vehicles last year while admitting it waited a decade to respond to the problem.

(Feds slam Fiat Chrysler for lax safety efforts. Click Herefor the story.)

NHTSA hit GM with a $35 million fine in May 2014. The maker itself launched a victims’ compensation program that has since confirmed more than 110 deaths connected to the ignition switch problem. GM also faces both individual lawsuits and an ongoing criminal probe by the U.S. Justice Department that some believe could levy more than $1 billion in fines.

The new auditor’s report contends NHTSA failed to properly review safety issues and then didn’t take required action against automakers when problems were discovered. It also did not properly train or supervise its staff. The study cites examples of instances where defects surfaced but were not followed or acted upon, including issues with faulty GM airbags.

The agency itself has complained that it is seriously understaffed considering the workload it faces, and the White House in February asked Congress to triple the budget for NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation. ODI currently has just 60 workers but wants 380.

(New bill would tie federal crash safety ratings to use of collision avoidance technology. Click Here for more.)

Currently, staff members ignore 90% of the roughly 330 consumer complaints that arrive each day. And the auditor’s report faults NHTSA for failing to open investigations when the facts would justify them.

The agency’s actions , says the report, “lack transparency and accountability. Specifically, ODI does not always document the justifications for its decisions not to investigate potential safety issues and does not always make timely decisions on opening investigations.”

(Click Here for a list of America’s highest-quality vehicles, according to JD Power.)

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4 Responses to “Amidst Safety Crackdown, NHTSA Comes Under Fire”

  1. veh says:

    Probably an interesting article in it if someone had the time to sift through some of the complaints on the NHTSA site. I suspect some good percentage are not worth followup.

  2. hir says:

    We see the RESULTS of Tax breaks, tax cuts, Budget cuts and Deregulation in making sure an agency is ineffective in its mission.
    Congress if famous in making sure agencies are ineffective, understaffed and no budgets, so that they will not regulation their business lobbyists that these agencies may effect.
    If you can not do away with the agency do away with its budgets, just like they are doing the Post Office, FAA and others.
    The general public is the one that suffers and the one the agency is to protect.

    • GT101 says:

      NHTSA recently got a big budget increase to police the industry. They have also been hiring new staff to conduct investigations.

      The postal service is hurting because of mismanagement and a huge drop in junk mail that is now sent via e-mail SPAM. My local post office has replaced four other post offices in the area without any increase in staff or equipment to handle the increased volume. They have remodeled the customer service counter three times and each time it becomes more unusable. They change computer software every few months because it’s so defective the clerks can hardly ship packages or process mail. The Postmaster General and friends in DC are in denial and losing billions annually.

      The public is the one who pays for it all and gets shafted.

  3. Jorge says:

    Just a typical U.S. government agency full of incompetence and apathy. It’s no surprise they are being reprimanded for failing to perform their responsibilities when there are glowing safety defect issues that they have failed to respond to properly such as the BME x35i fuel pump issue that has existed for years without a proper fix. It’s listed on the NHTSA website but BMW was never forced to correct the design flaw. Instead all BMW did was extend the fuel pump warranty which doesn’t prevent accidents or owners being stranded any where at any time without notice.

    One poor family with an X35i broke down in a snow storm on Thanksgiving day in a remote area without cellphone service. That could have been a life threatening situation due to freezing temps yet BMW has never been required to properly resolve the fuel pump issue in the X35i models even after seven different fuel pump part numbers were tried.

    SOS, DD in DC…

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