America's Car Safety Regulator Still Doesn't Have Its Shit Together

Illustration for article titled America's Car Safety Regulator Still Doesn't Have Its Shit Together

In 2011, the U.S. Department Of Transportation audited the America’s car safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and made recommendations on how it could be better at dealing with car defects. Five years later, a new audit from DOT still sees “significant safety concerns being overlooked.”


A report published by DOT on February 24 indicates U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx requested some scrutiny on NHTSA’s “vehicle safety procedures” and its Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) as related to the massive GM ignition recall that went down February 2014.

The findings:

“Our subsequent review determined that ODI’s inadequate processes for collecting and analyzing vehicle safety data resulted in significant safety concerns being overlooked.”

The audit says that while NHTSA “completed all agreed-to actions from our 2011 review,” the execution of those actions was unsatisfactory. Basically, NHTSA half-assed its mandated improvement efforts:

“As a result, 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.”

Here’s the report card that breaks the DOT’s assessment pretty plainly, pulled straight from the Department Of Transportation’s full report.

Illustration for article titled America's Car Safety Regulator Still Doesn't Have Its Shit Together

Womp womp.

“For the past two years, I have voiced serious concern about NHTSA’s ability to detect and deal with new safety hazards. This report confirms those concerns - NHTSA needs to step it up before we see more mass recalls,” Florida Senator Bill Nelson said in a statement reported by Reuters.


The audit says NHTSA has not been taking good notes, holding automakers accountable enough, or properly training its staff. Now the DOT has a whole new list of tasks for the NHSTA to shape up:

1. Develop and implement internal control mechanisms and periodically assesscompliance with established policies. At a minimum, these mechanisms shouldaddress:

a. retaining and storing pre-investigation documentation,

b. linking each issue evaluation discussed at a Defects Assessment Panelmeeting with the corresponding minutes for that meeting,

c. assessing the need for third-party assistance prior to obtaining thatassistance,

d. assessing and adjusting timeliness goals,e. using the investigation documentation checklist, and

f. protecting consumers’ personally identifiable information.

2. Designate responsibility for executing ODI’s training plan.

NHTSA’s response is that they agree with the DOT’s assessment, and promise to do everything on that list by June 30, 2016. “...we consider allrecommendations resolved but open pending final implementation of plannedactions,” NHTSA states in a response included on the report.


Consequences for the NHTSA in the event of a second failure remain unclear, but we’ll certainly be keen to see their progress come the end of June this year.

In the wake of the GM ignition switch fiasco (and even before that) NHTSA has been under increased scrutiny for why it doesn’t catch defects sooner, why it doesn’t provide automakers with tougher oversight, and why it doesn’t collect and act on data better. Since then the agency has bared its teeth more, but clearly it still has a long way to go.


Image via NHTSA

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DOT should add:

“Repeal the 25 year rule since they spend more time on chasing violators with foreign tech than checking on safety measures/tech in domestic cars."