CAS Letter to NHTSA Administrator Friedman: NHTSA Failed to Consider GM Airbag Failures from Outside Safety Groups

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

May 22, 2014
The Honorable David J. Friedman
Acting Administrator
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, West Building Washington, D.C. 20590
Dear Administrator Friedman:
NHTSA has repeatedly said it did not see a defect trend when it evaluated ignition switch failure in Cobalts, Ions and other GM models in 2007 and again in 2010. A major reason why NHTSA did not see a defect trend is because it failed to consider consumer complaints from outside the agency.1 From 1966 through 2006, NHTSA welcomed and included complaints from consumer groups, state attorney generals and agencies in its database. All through the early 1970’s, the agency’s data base included so many complaints from Ralph Nader and the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) that the agency arranged for bulk pickup for complaints to be copied and included in its complaint database.
In the early 2000’s consumers shifted from writing complaints to filing complaints online. Just as NHTSA moved to an online database for complaints, so did CAS. Former NHTSA Administrators Ricardo Martinez and Jeffrey Runge worked with CAS to develop a mechanism to shift from copying complaints to an electronic transfer from CAS’ website to NHTSA. On December 2, 2003, Administrator Runge wrote CAS: “ODI is working with a CAS contractor to develop the most efficient means of incorporating the CAS complaints into the ODI complaint database. We hope to be able to accomplish this in the near future.”
All that stopped around 2006 when NHTSA said outside complaints would no longer be included in its complaint database or in investigatory files. This overturned 40 years of welcoming outside consumer complaints in both the NHTSA’s complaint database and investigations.

Read the full CAS Letter to NHTSA Administrator Friedman: NHTSA Failed to Consider GM Airbag Failures from Outside Safety Groups.