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NHTSA Fails to Oversee Auto Recalls

Friday, October 12, 2018By Richard Alexander

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) faced sharp criticism for its faulty oversight of safety recalls according to a government audit released in late July. The audit, which was presented to Congress by the U.S. Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General, specifically condemned the NHTSA for its delayed action in response to the recall of millions of cars with defective Takata airbag inflators. It concluded that the failure to take appropriate steps may have contributed to the injuries and deaths of drivers and passengers.

History of Mishandling of Safety Matters

The Inspector General’s office has conducted several audits since 2011 that have found fault with the procedures employed by the NHTSA. A 2015 audit concluded that the agency ignored substantial safety issues. The report alleged that the NHTSA did not properly review safety concerns, demand compliance by automakers, or assemble data responsibly. Some of the defects covered in the report included acceleration issues in Toyota vehicles and faulty ignition switches in General Motors vehicles. Both of these defects led to large scale recalls for the two automakers.

NHTSA Cited for Inadequate Safety Measures

The recently released audit, ordered by Congress in 2015, found that the NHTSA did not follow protocol in responding to low repair rates for recalls and did not guarantee that recall repairs were adequately reported. The audit claimed that the NHTSA failed in managing the Takata recall largely in part to faulty procedures for gathering and verifying information from manufacturers related to the affected vehicles. According to the audit, in approximately 11 percent of car recalls between 2012 and 2016, various legally required documents were not submitted. This lack of supervision, along with a substandard action plan to prompt recall repairs in Takata vehicles, are believed to have contributed to the delayed implementation of the Takata recall. The findings suggest, according to lawmakers, that the agency is falling short of protecting the public from risks presented by defective vehicles, especially with respect to the Takata recall, which now involves over 100 million airbag inflators among 19 automakers.

Audit Issues Recommendations

The audit makes several recommendations to address these deficiencies including better training for staff members to improve their knowledge of recall procedures. The report also advises the agency to develop a system to address communications and to review faulty procedures that were employed in the Takata recall.

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