An investigation by The New York Times into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has found that the safety organization has been slow to identify and act on vehicle safety issues. According to The New York Times, the failures go well beyond its slow reaction to the GM ignition switch defect.
The Associated Press reported that this week Congressional Republicans charged that the NHTSA was years late in detecting the deadly problem with General Motors’ cars and lacks the expertise to oversee increasingly complex vehicles.
The congressional report stated that safety regulators should have discovered GM’s faulty ignition switches seven years before the company recalled 2.6 million cars to fix the deadly problem. It also raised serious questions about the NHTSA’s ability to keep the public safe.
The New York Times reported that by the time GM started the recall, the NHTSA had received more than 2,000 complaints about the problem. At least 19 people died in crashes caused by the faulty switches in GM small cars like the Chevrolet Cobalt. Lawmakers have said they expect the death toll to rise to near 100. GM admitted knowing about the problem for at least ten years before issuing the recall in February. The long delay in the recall left many affected vehicles on the road, causing many additional crashes that resulted in deaths and injuries.
The New York Times cited other cases in which the NHTSA was slow to act. Last year, the regulator suggested that Chrysler recall 2.7 million jeeps for exploding fuel tanks. After Chrysler pushed back, the agency lowered its request to 1.1 million cars. Prior to making the recall request, the NHTSA had linked 51 deaths to the defect over a 14-year period.
The slow action has been going on for decades. Both lawmakers and consumer groups criticized the NHTSA in the late 1990s for failing to detect a high incidence of rollover accidents involving Ford Explorers with Firestone tires. The problem was estimated to have resulted in accidents causing more than 250 fatalities. At the time, congress passed a law giving the agency more control over the auto industry and better access to data, yet it didn’t help improve the speed with which the NHTSA reacted to the GM problem.
CNBC quoted a former NHTSA employee as saying that part of the safety agency’s problem in dealing with investigations is surely lack of resources, or at least how those resources are allocated. The article went on to say that the agency’s budget for safety defects investigation has only been about 1% of its total budget for each of the last 6 years. The $10.6 million total budgeted for this ear is less than the $14.4 million total compensation package that GMs chief executive, Mary Barra, could earn in 2014.
Although traffic fatalities have fallen considerably since the NHTSA was created in 1970, it is due in part to the safety improvement in vehicles and roadways. The NHTSA has a history of falling short of expectations in protecting the safety of the public.
If you have been injured in a car accident that was the result of a problem with a Chevy Cobalt or another vehicle, contact the Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers at Munley Law at 855-866-5529.