Poorly Run NHTSA Rejects 90% of Consumers' Auto Safety Complaints, Auditor Finds

The U.S. agency in charge of keeping motorists safe from defective vehicles has failed to do its job, especially in the largest single case in recent history: General Motors’ ignition switch defect that’s reportedly responsible for more than 110 deaths, an audit of the agency has found.

The U.S. Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not held automakers fully accountable over the past ten years, during which it repeatedly missed opportunities to address the ignition-switch issue, according to reports by The New York Times and Detroit News on the audit, scheduled to be released this coming week.
The 42-page report, obtained Friday by the newspapers, details how the agency failed to:

  • Review safety issues;
  • Hold automakers accountable for safety lapses;
  • Collect vehicle safety data, or;
  • Properly train or supervise its staff.

Moreover, the NHTSA rejects most requests by staff members to open investigations into suspected defects.
Other disturbing findings by the inspector general includes a 90 percent rejection of consumer complaints that arrive daily at the NHTSA. A single reviewer spends just “seconds” reading each complaint. Last year, NHTSA had a screener initially review 78,000 complaints — roughly 330 complaints each day. And that employee had to spend half the workday on other duties.
“Collectively, these weaknesses have resulted in significant safety concerns being overlooked,” the report found.
Repeatedly, NHTSA investigators missed opportunities to pinpoint the problem with GM’s ignition switchs, which were prone to turn off, shutting down the engine and disabling systems like power steering and airbags.
The report urges 17 major recommendations for instituting reforms. The NHTSA’s new administrator, Mark Rosekind, who took office in December, has agreed to “aggressively implement” them by next June.
The inspector general’s report found that the NHTSA has suffered deep systemic problems for years in how it trains staff, and in deciding when and how to investigate defects.

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