Auto Safety Agency Fails to Hold Car Manufacturers Accountable

June 22, 2015

An upcoming government audit says the nation’s auto safety regulator failed repeatedly over a decade to discover the General Motors ignition switch defect that’s linked to more than 110 deaths.

AP Photo
AP Photo

The New York Times and Detroit News report that an audit by the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration repeatedly failed to hold automakers accountable for safety lapses, didn’t carefully collect vehicle safety data and didn’t hold carmakers accountable for problems.

The 42-page audit is set to be released next week by the inspector general’s office. Copies of the report were obtained Friday by The New York Times and Detroit News.

The newspapers reported that the audit found the safety agency has a weak management, undertrained staff and insufficient processes in place to properly review safety data submitted by automakers and complaints submitted by drivers. Investigators repeatedly missed opportunities to identify the defective ignition switch, the audit said, adding that problems extended beyond the G.M. case.

“Collectively, these weaknesses have resulted in significant safety concerns being overlooked,” the audit said.

In a formal response submitted as part of the audit, the agency says that efforts to enhance safety “never end,” adding that NHTSA is committed to learning lessons from the G.M. case and others. The agency said it issued its own review of procedures following the G.M. case that led to several improvements, including improved staffing and training.

The agency acknowledged in a recent report its own failings in the years leading up to G.M.’s ignition recall, but it placed blame squarely on the automaker for deceiving government officials and withholding useful information, the Times reported. The inspector general’s report, by contrast, focuses on the safety agency’s shortcomings.

The audit says the agency does not thoroughly screen consumer complaints, despite receiving more than 300 per day, and it does not verify that manufacturers’ reports about potential defects that caused injuries and death are complete and accurate. The agency also does not follow statistical practices when reviewing such complaints and manufacturer reports, or provide adequate training to staff responsible for reviewing the information, the newspapers reported.

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