Getting Defective Vehicles Off the Road

Heavy traffic on motorway
Font Size:

In this three-part series, Eric Schlabs examines recent vehicle recalls and what they reveal about federal oversight of automobile safety.

Font Size:

Whether you are one of the 90% of Americans who use a car to commute to work each day or you drive only occasionally, when you get behind the wheel you probably take for granted that someone, somewhere, has ensured that your vehicle is free of any known defects that could impact your safety.

You might also assume that if something does go wrong – for example, an airbag does not inflate as it should during an accident – and the government or automobile manufacturer is notified, that prompt measures will be taken to investigate and remedy the situation. And in fact, under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, manufacturers are required to notify owners, dealers, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of any defects and conduct timely and effective recalls where needed. For its part, NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is responsible for investigating potential vehicle safety issues and requiring recalls where warranted. Additionally, NHTSA can fine automakers who fail to report known safety defects in an accurate and a timely matter.

NHTSA has exercised this authority on numerous occasions in the past two years, levying record-breaking fines, including $105 million against Fiat Chrysler and $70 million against Honda. However, ODI’s actions (and inactions) concerning ignition switches in GM cars that allegedly contributed to fatal accidents have raised concerns that ODI has some unaddressed, institutional defects of its own.

The Regulatory Review is pleased to introduce a three-part series by Eric Schlabs that looks at why NHTSA’s defects investigation process has come under such scrutiny and what can be done to ensure better regulatory performance in the future. The first essay examines recent, high-profile recalls and fines and what they can tell us about NHTSA’s ability to get unsafe vehicles off the road. The second essay focuses primarily on the findings and recommendations of a Department of Transportation audit of ODI. The audit, which was released this June, revealed that “ODI’s processes for collecting vehicle safety data are insufficient to ensure complete accurate data.” Finally, the series concludes with a comprehensive list of resources related to the history of the GM ignition switch recall, the responses of various government agencies, and next steps.

A Guide to Recent Automotive Industry Fines and Recalls

August 3, 2015  |  Eric Schlabs

Between the high-profile GM recall of 2014 and the issuance of record-breaking fines against several automobile manufacturers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found itself in the spotlight on several occasions in the past two years. In this essay, The Regulatory Review contributor Eric Schlabs reviews recent events related to auto manufacturer recalls and NHTSA’s handling of safety-related vehicle defects.

Reforming Automobile Defects Investigations

August 4, 2015  |  Eric Schlabs

A recent audit report by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General raises serious questions about the government’s effectiveness in identifying and remedying safety-related vehicle defects, and proposes steps NHTSA can take to improve its investigations and processes.

A Resource List on NHTSA Fines, Recalls, and Reform

August 5, 2015  |  Eric Schlabs

The GM recall, NHTSA’s multi-million dollar fines against Honda and Fiat Chrysler, and the Department of Transportation’s audit of the Office of Defects Investigation have all received considerable media attention this past year. This source list directs readers to key documents and resources describing the context and background of recent events, as well as proposals for how to improve the defect investigation process moving forward.