NHTSA’s Data Collection and Analysis Inadequate to Identify Vehicle Safety Problems

By guest blogger Jessica Ranucci

Faulty ignition switches in certain General Motors vehicles are linked to over one hundred deaths. This defect has spurred a recall of more than nine million GM vehicles since February 2014. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knew of the faulty airbag deployment as early as 2003 and received reports that ignition switch failure was a possible cause as early as 2007 — but failed to investigate further.

A recent report by the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General suggests that NHTSA’s failure to identify the GM defect was not an anomaly. The report details significant problems with NHTSA’s procedures for collecting and analyzing vehicle safety data including:

  • A single NHTSA employee is responsible for screening the 40,000-80,000 consumer complaints NHTSA receives each year. He immediately discards ninety percent of the complaints; only ten percent are forwarded on to other NHTSA staff for review.
  • NHTSA has no effective mechanism to ensure that manufacturers submit complete early warning reporting data.
  • NHTSA fails to follow standard statistical procedures so is unable to identify statistically significant trends in reported vehicle problems.
  • Consumers and manufacturers lack clear guidance on what safety information should be reported to NHTSA in the first place.

 The report concludes that “these weaknesses have resulted in significant safety concerns being overlooked” and makes seventeen recommendations for NHTSA to improve its data collection process.

The full report is here.

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