Investigation Launched into NHTSA Effectiveness

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a federal agency tasked with helping to ensure vehicles and roadways are safe. Reducing the risk of collisions is one of the top goals of the NHTSA. As part of its job, the agency is supposed to obtain information from vehicle manufacturers about defects. The NHTSA is also supposed to monitor new and existing safety technologies that can be installed in vehicles.

However, the NHTSA has had some high-profile failures in recent months, prompting the House Energy and Commerce Committee to make a request to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for a full-blown investigation into whether the agency is doing enough to protect the public. Leaders of the bipartisan House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a joint letter to the Government Accountability Office voicing their concerns. The letter stated concern “about NHTSA’s process of obtaining data and investigating vehicle defects.”

General Motors Ignition Switch Recall

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s concerns were prompted, in part, by the NHTSA’s response — or lack thereof– regarding several recent recalls. One of the recalls involved General Motors vehicles that had defective ignitions. As a result of the problems with the ignition, the car would randomly shut off while a motorist was driving. This problem with the ignition also disabled safety equipment, presenting a significant risk of serious injury or death.

According to some accounts, the NHTSA may have been aware of this problem as early as 2007 but did not act immediately. GM did not act either until recently, and the dangerous vehicles remained on the roads for years after this serious problem was identified.

Takata Airbag Recall

Many feel that the NHTSA has also not been as effective as it should have been regarding the recent recall of around 8 million vehicles containing airbags manufactured by Takata. These airbags are found in vehicles made by 10 different automobile manufacturers. Unfortunately, the airbags may explode and injure those inside by sending shrapnel flying with powerful force. So far, four fatalities and dozens of additional injuries have been linked to the exploding airbags.

The NHTSA should have provided accurate information to consumers about the Takata airbags, officials say. Instead, the agency initially provided incorrect details about the vehicles that were affected by the problem. The NHTSA website tool making it possible for people to look up whether their vehicle was affected by a recall also allegedly malfunctioned.

NHTSA Has Duty to Adapt to New Automotive Technology

As vehicle technologies develop and cars have more advanced safety features, there is greater potential for problems to occur. The NHTSA needs to take a proactive role in obtaining information, conducting investigations and making accurate data available to the public. When the agency fails in these areas, lives are at stake.