NHTSA Reverses Redaction Policy
Why recall information disappeared from files
By Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer Auto Editor
Sunday, June 30, 2002
Edition: Final, Section: Driving, Page F1
Is it a mistake or a conspiracy?
If you ask Clarence Ditlow, the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration is trying to prevent scrutiny of regional-recall problems by
no longer disclosing the city and the state of consumers who complain.
Once that information was listed in the agency's records and on its Web
site. But in the last few years, the information has disappeared, said
Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
"This makes it very difficult for the public to analyze the inadequacies of
geographic recalls," Ditlow said.
The NHTSA insists that the change was a simple error.
The cities and states on the NHTSA's Web site and in its files were removed
by mistake, responded Kenneth N. Weinstein, NHTSA associate administrator
for safety assurance.
Weinstein said the people responsible for blocking out names and addresses
believed that it was easier to block out the entire address and did not
realize that doing so was against the agency's policy. The information will
be restored, he said.
In the last few years, the NHTSA has been increasingly allowing automakers
to do regional recalls if the automaker can convince the NHTSA that the
safety defect is most likely to occur in a specific area. Usually the
regional recalls involve corrosion of a safety-related part or failures due
to high temperatures.
Critics of the system, including Ditlow and former NHTSA administrator Joan
Claybrook, contend that the system endangers consumers. They have demanded
that the NHTSA stop the practice.
The NHTSA has defended regional recalls as a rational approach that
encourages automakers to help consumers because automakers might not do a
national recall. Agency officials also say they are insisting that the
automakers take steps to make sure that all consumers are protected.