The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is coming under fire for its role in the General Motors faulty ignition switch recall, leaving many wondering about how the agency makes decisions regarding the process.
The agency is in the midst of opening an investigation into the GM issue and closing the door on others without finishing the job, critics offer.
For example, NHTSA just announced it was ending its investigation into a series of door fires in the Jeep Liberty. The query, which began in 2012, into 104,000 SUVs ended without seeking a recall despite reports of door fires linked to the driver’s side power master window switch.
The agency received reports of smoke coming from the driver’s door followed by flames, NHTSA said. In both instances, the driver had to stop the vehicle and exit through the passenger door.
“In addition to the fire, consumers reported erratic function of the windows and door locks resulting in activation on their own while the fire was occurring,” NHTSA said.
The investigation is just one of several recent instances in which the federal agency either declined to order a recall or automakers asked NHTSA to forgo ordering a recall because the impact on consumers is negligible. Not surprisingly, safety advocates are questioning the leadership of the agency.
Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator, said the current threshold for ordering an investigation is too tough and officials don’t seem to understand that it should be much lower.
(Detroit inventor creates Motor City Wiper. For more, Click Here.)
She noted that during a recent hearing, the general counsel for NHTSA said the agency didn’t order an investigation into the General Motors ignition issue because there wasn’t a reasonable risk to public safety.
“That’s not what the law says,” she said. “That’s not the standard. We’re talking about just opening an investigation.”
(Click Here for details about the rising number of deaths in GM’s recalled vehicles.)
The agency has recently faced several high profile issues, such as Toyota’s unintended acceleration cases and the gas tank fires associated with the Jeep Liberty where they were not as aggressive as critics would like them to be.
(To see why California is questioning regulation of driverless cars, Click Here.)
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said he’s confused by the reticence of the agency to be tougher on automakers and by the lack of responsiveness by automakers when their products may be dangerous.
“The whole point of the recall is to eliminate the product liability lawsuit, which causes quite a bit of damage to (an automaker’s) brand as well as costing a lot of money in damages,” he said. “It’s what it is designed to stop.”