By on June 22, 2015

BMW 325Ci on Fire

Last Friday, the U.S. Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General dropped the sledgehammer on the NHTSA over its failings in automotive safety.

The 42-page report released to the public Monday says the agency fails to do all it can to promote automotive safety, from carefully reviewing safety issues and holding automakers accountable for potential problems, to carefully collecting data and properly training its employees, The Detroit News reports.

The report — the result of the NHTSA’s stumblings surrounding the February 2014 General Motors ignition switch recall crisis — notes the agency ignored complaints as early as 2003 from consumers regarding air bag deployment failures in certain GM models over the years.

The issue isn’t out of the ordinary, unfortunately, as the agency was found to ignore 90 percent of all consumer complaints arriving daily. The screeners responsible for reading them spent mere “seconds” on each complaint, with one screener having gone over 78,000 in one year — 330/day — while working in other duties.

Regarding self-reporting from automakers, the NHTSA isn’t doing all it can to determine accuracy in what is reported. According to Jalopnik, what everyone else would call a fire, manufactures call it something else:

However, according to [NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation] staff, manufacturers routinely miscategorize safety incidents. For example, staff told us that some manufacturers avoid using the word “fire” in non-dealer field reports and instead use phrases such as “strange odor” to avoid categorizing an incident as fire-related.

The Inspector General’s report lists 17 major recommendations needed to extensively reform the NHTSA, reforms administrator Mark Rosekind plans to “aggressively implement” by June 2016. Rosekind and the Inspector General, Calvin Scovel, are among those set to testify before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday on automotive safety.

(Photo credit: Tony Webster/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

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35 Comments on “Report: NHTSA Failed Consumers Over Automotive Safety...”


  • avatar
    CJinSD

    There are people so completely clueless that they believe the government can solve problems instead of merely making them more expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      stevelyon

      Who better to regulate vehicle safety? The manufacturers?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Works for Wall Street, they “regulate” themselves don’t they?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        If someone is selling a car that lacks qualities that I desire, I don’t buy that car.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        well…let me try this one.
        How was it done prior to 1964 and since it has been in charge, how much safer are we as far as the MFRs developing better, safer cars?
        I might suggest we were always trying to produce better, safer cars as this is the advantage of companies competing against each other for the consumer’s dollar.
        Were the cars of 1964 better and safer than the cars of 1954? 1960?
        Are we $851,000,000(2015) safer as a result of this budget/spend?

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “Who better to regulate vehicle safety?”

        Anyone else apparently.

        If it were any other kind of paid service provider, they’d be out of business and be done. Instead, even more money will be poured into this pit.

        • 0 avatar

          Indeed,no one trust the car makers so people would scrutinize them better. Consumer reports might become valuable again. But generally people trust the government to have their interest at heart,so a safe stamp of approval gets little review, and in a working system, wouldn’t warrant one.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          “If it were any other kind of paid service provider, they’d be out of business and be done.”

          NHTSA’s basic approach is to establish standards, then follow up after the fact with spot checks and reviews of consumer complaints for red flags. The US government does not pre-approve vehicles for production, as is the case under UNECE.

          NHTSA generally assumes that the OEMs will make a decent effort, instead of presuming guilt and inspecting before the fact. But hey, if that’s what you want, perhaps you would prefer the added bureaucracy of a type approval system.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The pictured BMW was ONE day out of warranty.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Money – it’s going to take lots of it.

    NHTSA simply isn’t staffed to fulfill its new role as Guardian Angel.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Yeah, that’s the likely outcome of this. No talk of efficiency or hiring the right people or making it easier to show the public more of the data being collected.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        If one person is going over 300 plus complaints a day, there is no way that they are vetting any of them properly. I get bombarded by 200 plus emails a day. At that point the vast majority of them become background noise. This is no different.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Under the Obama administration, NHTSA’s fines have been increased dramatically. Presumably, these higher penalties are intended to motivate more diligent self-policing.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    I think I’m good with the NHTSA’s present level of service. I just have to follow a few simple rules:

    A) Don’t binge drink.
    B) Don’t drive any Honda older than 2010.
    C) Don’t buy any BMW.

    I can handle this.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Is NHTSA enforcement driven by complaint numbers? If so, could crowd-sourced or kick-started complaints deal with important things like declining driver visibility?

  • avatar
    50merc

    Hey, this is government. These things take time…weeks…months…years…decades.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    The ignition deaths are a result of gov and there are more of this type coming, lots more. Not so long ago they taught in auto safty clkass how to steer a car if the motor died. Now apaprently people just drive into trees.

    Fortunatly we have rearview cameras, beepers blind spot warning cross traffic alert, and as soon as any of these systems fail there will be even more accidents.

    People need to learn how to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I’m confused by your comments. The ignition deaths were caused by the government, but also by bumbling drivers.

      GM’s documentation problems, open loop quality process, and broken communications had nothing to do with it?

      Should GM’s lawyers just forward the plaintiff’s claims to the NHTSA, or return them to sender with a note attached that says “your client was just a bad driver”?

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    It’s entirely the government’s fault that the airbags did not deploy in those ignition switch cases. Also bootstraps. Also trickle down, and personal responsibility. Those people should’ve learned how to manually deploy their own airbags during a crash. It’s their own fault.

    Similarly, when you are killed by Takata airbag shrapnel, well then you know not to buy another car with a Takata airbag, don’t you? You won’t make that mistake twice. The market will correct it! Liberty!

  • avatar
    shaker

    Sounds like we needed another Ralph Nader to hound GM/Takata about these “Cost/Benefit” (More Profit=More Death) calculations.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Minderbinder: Nately died a wealthy man, Yossarian. He had over sixty shares in the syndicate.

      Yossarian: What difference does that make? He’s dead.

      Minderbinder: Then his family will get it.

      Yossarian: He didn’t have time to have a family.

      Minderbinder: Then his parents will get it.

      Yossarian: They don’t need it, they’re rich.

      Minderbinder: Then they’ll understand.

  • avatar
    Joe K

    Congress keeps cutting departmental budgets under the false guise of saving the taxpayer money. I suggest we look at funding and congress for these issues, not the departments themselves.


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