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DOT Criticizes NHTSA’s Handling of Recalls

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June 23, 2015—The Department of Transportation’s inspector general strongly criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in an audit that was released on Monday, which collected and analyzed safety data to spot auto-defect trends.

The audit focuses on the NHTSA and its handling of the multiple recalls last year involving General Motors’ faulty ignition switches in older vehicles. The inspector general focuses on how NHTSA went about collecting and analyzing data. At the end of the audit, there are 17 recommendations.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind says he accepts them all, according to a report USA Today.

The audit found many NHTSA shortcomings. Its says the Office of Defects Investigation did not ask enough detailed questions to gather the kind of information that could lead to detecting defects or failure trends. For example, it says there are only 15 broad defect codes even though modern vehicles have more than 15,000 parts.

When consumers or auto manufacturers reported potential defects, the audit found that the office didn’t thoroughly screen the complaints.

Even with all the data, NHTSA may not be sufficiently able to look for patterns that can help protect consumers. NHTSA is faulted in the audit for not establishing a “base case,” meaning how the statistics might look without abnormal defects to use for comparison.

Understaffing and insufficient training are issues. A staff of 41 in the defects office are collecting and analyzing data to investigate and make sure that automakers comply with the law. NHTSA has played a role in recalling 9 million vehicles since 2000, making the workload huge. Some of the employees are not sufficiently trained to carry out these responsibilities.

The audit comes out just before Tuesday’s Senate Committee scheduled to look at how the NHTSA has dealt with the Takata airbag inflator recalls.

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