Ohio Valley, West Virginia

HomeWest VirginiaOhio Valley

Email Eric T. Chaffin Eric T. Chaffin on Twitter Eric T. Chaffin on Facebook Eric T. Chaffin on Avvo
Eric T. Chaffin
Eric T. Chaffin
Attorney • (888) 480-1123

Government Audit Raises Continuing Concerns with Auto Safety Oversight

Comments Off

The years 2014 and 2015 were record years as far as automobile recalls are concerned. Millions of vehicles were slated for repairs because of one defect or another. Automakers worked with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to alert consumers to the issues, and encourage them to take their vehicles in to be fixed.

Still, according to a recent audit of the NHTSA by the U.S. Office of Inspector General (OIG), more needs to be done. Released on February 24, 2016, the audit warns that the administration is still not up to speed when it comes to identifying and investigating potential vehicle defects.

Previous Report Found NHTSA Lacking

This isn’t the first time the NHTSA has been called to task for inefficient tracking of automobile problems. Back in June 2015, the OIG identified shortcomings in the NHTSA that undermined their ability to protect public safety. That audit was undertaken at the request of the Secretary of Transportation, after General Motors (GM) recalled millions of vehicles due to the defective ignition switch. The switch could turn into the “off” position without warning, robbing the air bags of power, which could cause significant injuries in an accident.

The OIG noted that the NHTSA had looked into GM air-bag non-deployments as a potential safety issue in 2007, yet decided not to investigate the issue and never identified the ignition switch as causing a problem. It wasn’t until 2014 that GM started recalling vehicles. Currently, the defective ignition switch has been connected to 124 deaths and 274 injuries.

The OIG concluded that the NHTSA had failed to carefully review this and other safety issues, failed to hold automakers accountable for serious safety problems, and had other interior issues, such as staff training and supervision shortcomings, that hindered its ability to properly police the auto industry.

OIG Finds Flaws in Office of Defects Investigation

In the 2015 and previous reports, the OIG made recommendations for how the NHTSA may improve. Now, in the 2016 report, they examine the administration’s efforts to implement the OIG’s recommendations.

Their conclusion: though the NHTSA completed all agreed-to actions from previous reports, there remain some concerns about the implementation of some of those actions. The main one is that the administration still lacks mechanisms to ensure that staff members consistently apply the new actions.

For example, NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI), which identifies and addresses potential vehicle safety defects, agreed to document justifications for exceeding investigation timeliness goals, yet over 70 percent of delayed investigations did not include these justifications.

In addition, the ODI agreed to establish a procedure to store and retain pre-investigation records to better address potential safety concerns, but they haven’t enforced this procedure. A total of 42 percent of pre-investigation documents were not included in the ODI’s case management system.

Finally, the ODI developed a training plan to be sure its investigators have the skills needed to carry out their duties, but has yet to execute the program.

“As a result,” the OIG’s report states, “ODI’s staff may not be sufficiently trained to identify and investigate potential vehicle defects, or ensure that vehicle manufacturers take prompt and effective action to remediate issues.”

In conclusion, the OIG warns that the NHTSA still lacks quality control mechanisms to ensure compliance with the new policies and procedures. This could lead to future delays in addressing vehicle safety problems that could leave consumers at risk. The OIG made additional recommendations for improvements.