Almost Half of American Vehicles Aren’t Covered Under Existing Safety Regulations

Hundreds of crashes involving defective cars are going unreported each year because under U.S. safety rules automakers aren’t required to report suspicious accidents for models more than 10 years old.

That’s worrisome, safety advocates say, because the average age of cars on U.S. roads is 11.4 years, and almost half of vehicles aren’t covered under existing regulations. As a result, many incidents don’t make it into a government early-warning database designed to catch patterns of defects that regulators can use to determine if a recall is necessary. In effect, the rules haven’t kept pace with the reality on the nation’s roads.

Legislation introduced in February by Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, would eliminate the 10-year limit as part of a broader effort to make safety data more useful to the public. That legislation is still being reviewed in committee.

“The law is absolutely out of date because companies have made it out of date by ignoring defects for so long in some of these cases,” said Joan Claybrook, a Washington-based consumer advocate who led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the 1970s. “It ought to be open-ended.”

A collision involving Dianna Moulton, a 69-year-old grandmother from Dearborn, Michigan, shows how cases involving older cars fall through regulatory cracks. While Christmas shopping last year, Moulton drove into a parking lot lamppost. The accident left only a crack in the bumper of her 2002 Honda CR-V. But the air bag went off, exploding with such force she was left with a broken eye socket and other facial fractures.

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