June 22, 2015
Statement on DOT Inspector General Report on NHTSA’s Efforts to Identify & Investigate Vehicle Safety Concerns
The Inspector General’s stinging report on NHTSA’s Defect Investigation process reveals three fundamental flaws: lack of resources, lack of transparency and accountability, and lack of will to take on major defects.
- Lack of resources appears in all too many areas: having just one person to initially screen all the complaints, a few seconds for each, amounts to nothing more than sorting the mail. Not having funds for software that can read manufacturer EWR reports means defect data go unread. Investigators must have training and training costs money the agency doesn’t have. Although not pointed out by the IG, NHTSA doesn’t even have its own research facility like other agencies; instead it must rent space from Honda.
- Lack of transparency and accountability means no one knows why investigations aren’t opened and no one is held accountable for not opening an investigation. People die due to unopened investigations. NHTSA must be transparent and accountable both externally and internally. Staff have to know when and why an investigation is opened or not. The public can provide an important check and balance on agency action and inaction.
- Lack of will to take on major defects means NHTSA doesn’t get the hard job done. Instead the agency concentrates on small, inadequate investigations like the Equipment Query into Webasto sunroofs that generated over a hundred recalls by small shops over a defect with no known deaths or serious injuries. Lack of will means settling for inadequate Service Campaigns or geographic recalls instead of needed national Safety Recalls when a manufacturer balks at doing anything more.
NHTSA must be given adequate resources but it has to become a forceful regulator that is transparent and accountable to the public. All the people who have died from safety defects in the past and all the people who can be saved from safety defects in the future deserve nothing less than an agency that is willing and able to take on any defect.
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