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NHTSA Failing to Meet Its Own Deadlines

Critics say delaying probes means more injuries, deaths.

by on Aug.11, 2014

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, wants changes in how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration handles petitions.

It appears it’s not just U.S. automakers that drag their feet when it comes to investigating potential problems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration often fails to meet its own deadlines for responding to complaints.

Fifteen drivers have filed petitions with the federal agency, also known as NHTSA, since 2010 and it missed the legal deadline to grant or deny the investigation requests 12 times, including a 2012 request, which is not yet to be resolved, according to the Associated Press.

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By law, the agency is required to approve or deny a request for an inquiry in four months. There are no penalties for missing the deadline.

Conversely, automakers can be fined up to $35 million – as was the case with General Motors earlier this year – for failing to report a potential problem within five days of discovering the issue. It fined Hyundai $17.35 million last week for a problem related to a brake issue.

NHTSA defends its poor response record – in eight cases it took more than a year to make a decision – by saying that it often requires more information or data before it can determine whether or not to open an investigation.

“Everything is just really slow,” Matt Oliver, executive director of the North Carolina Consumers Council, told AP. His organization petitioned the government in February 2012 asking NHTSA to open an investigation into Nissan truck transmission failures. It has yet to get a decision. “You have to ask is everything going as efficiently as it can?”

Critics point out that every minute that NHTSA drags its heels is another minute lives could be in danger. Vehicle owners wanting federal regulators to open an investigation have two paths: file a complaint or submit a petition. A complaint has information about a single incident while petitions are formal requests for investigations involving a problem in many vehicles. A complaint can actually be logged on the agency’s website whereas a petition is submitted by one body representing a group.

(Hyundai agrees to $17.35 million fine from NHTSA. For more, Click Here.)

Some groups, such as the Center of Auto Safety, are well known for their involvement in these sorts of actions, and one would think would get better results than individuals.

(Click Here for details about GM’s latest lawsuit loss.)

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center For Auto Safety, submitted a petition in November 2009 for an investigation into fires in Jeep SUVs with gas tanks behind the rear axle. With reports of 12 fires, nine injuries and one death at the time, it would seem an investigation would be an easy choice. NHTSA took more than nine months, which is five month after the deadline, to grant the petition and open a formal investigation.

(To see the 12 cheapest and most expensive states to own a car, Click Here.)

Ultimately, the agency found the problem could be attributed to 51 fire deaths when it announced a recall last June. Ditlow claims that since the petition was filed, at least 31 people died in fiery rear crashes involving the SUVs, according to AP.

The issue likely to come to a head in the coming weeks when David Friedman, the agency’s acting administrator, testifies before a congressional committee, demanding answers about NHTSA’s reputation for dragging its heels.

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3 Responses to “NHTSA Failing to Meet Its Own Deadlines”

  1. Jorge says:

    I know hundreds if not thousands of BMW owners filed safety claims with NHTSA over the x35i high pressure fuel pump failures that caused the engines to lose all power, shake violently and shut off even at highway speeds. NHTSA never did an actual investigation into these failures they just allowed BMW to extend the warranty which did nothing to correct the safety issue even though at least one accident was reported at the time. Those cars are still on the roadways today and the problem still exist…

  2. MIKE DAVIS says:

    Mr. Strong should not rely so guilessly on reports emanating from professional critics, including plaintiff law firms. Unfortunately, these individuals or organizations have no incentive or legal requirement to be truthful or even to investigate fully before lodging complaints, especially to the media. For example, as some media have pointed out, the Center for Auto Safety, in dealing itself into the GM ignition switch controversy, simply cited ever instance of Chevrolet Cobalts involved in injury accidents reported by FARS, regardless of whether related to possible ignition switch or air bag problems–pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles.

  3. Michael Strong says:

    Mr. Davis: This story is not borne out of the fact that some lawyer whispered in my ear. Records indicate that, and NHTSA officials acknowledge — as pointed out in the story — that they have missed many deadlines. In fact, I suspect it will be one of the discussion points when Mr. Friedman sits down at a congressional hearing in the near future. The process of accurately determining, reporting, investigating and resolving a potential product problem is complex and suggesting that the blame should fall on more shoulders than just the automakers is not a new idea. This only supports that assertion.