NHTSA Faces Scrutiny over Recalls

With two major recalls sweeping the nation very recently, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has come under close scrutiny. The GM ignition switches and Takata airbags that spurred the recall of millions of vehicles cost the lives of dozens of people, leading officials to examine why these issues were overlooked for so long. Evidence suggests that the NHTSA was aware of the GM defect as early as 2007, but failed to take decisive action.

In September 2014, a bi-partisan group consisting of leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee investigated the NHTSA’s actions relating to the GM recall and released a scathing report of their findings. Following this review, the group submitted a request for the Government Accountability Office to further investigate the NHTSA’s infrastructure, procedures, budget, and other concerns.

The NHTSA has been criticized for issues including:

  • Failing to raise public awareness regarding the two recalls
  • Publishing inaccurate information
  • A lack of accountability within the organization
  • An alarming discrepancy in member’s knowledge of how a vehicles function
  • Online search tools for pending recalls failed to work properly
  • Poor communication and information dispersal

Although the recall regarding Takata airbags has recently been expanded to include vehicles nation-wide, the recall was originally confined to humid regions, which posed the most hazard. The NHTSA requested that Takata expand the recall across the country, and the request was denied, leading officials to question the impact of the administration and its perception in the industry. In light of concerns such as this, the White House has announced that the Department of Transportation will also be looking into the issues surrounding the NHTSA.

Proposed steps to increase the effectiveness of the NHTSA include increases in budget, hiring new officials, and increasing the penalties which the administration can impose on companies which do not comply with safe practices. The current maximum civil penalty is a $35 million fine, a paltry sum to many large auto manufacturers.

Like so many other oversight administrations, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the NHTSA was established to offer protection and oversight, specifically to regulate the safety of vehicles driven across the country. When manufacturers overlook the need for safety to save themselves a buck, the NHTSA should step in. However, the administration responds to only a fraction of the thousands of reports that it receives each year. Officials in the NHTSA cite insufficient staff members and budget to address these issues, but two major automobile recalls in the past year has drawn a spotlight to the potential issues that have gripped this organization. Hopefully a revitalized effort to increase safety for driver and passengers will prevent fatalities due to automotive defects in the future.