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Auto Safety Issues That May Lead to Recalls Are Still Under-reported by Automakers

Underreporting of consumer complaints and other auto safety issues by automakers and lack of NHTSA training has to lead to a breakdown in the adequate auto defect and safety investigations in the past and are still a problem today. An investigative report by a Houston news station found that major automakers are still underreporting consumer complaints regarding safety defects to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Since 2003, automakers have been required to report consumer complaints and defects to the federal government. Not all automakers are complying with this regulation at all times, and this lack of proper reporting can mean devastating results for the general public.


Under reporting or misreporting auto problems leads to fines

The problem of under-reporting auto safety concerns gained public attention after many fatal auto defect related accidents that led to Honda and Chrysler each being fined $70 million by the Department of Transportation for failing to forward consumer complaints to the NHTSA. Fiat Chrysler was fined $105 million for failing to complete safety recalls. An investigative report by KPRC in Houston found that Volkswagen, the second largest automaker in the world, reported a significantly lower percentage of consumer complaints and problems than any other car manufacturer, leading to some concern that the company may not be reporting accurately.

This is not Volkswagen’s only problem. The automaker has admitted that 11 million of its vehicles were equipped with software that was used to cheat on emissions tests. Volkswagen is now facing global investigations over the emissions cheating and the U.S. Justice Department has filed a civil lawsuit and is also pursuing a criminal investigation.

More than 30,000 people are killed in traffic accidents every year and more than two million are injured.  Although most accidents are caused by driver error, such as distraction or reckless driving, defective vehicles or defective auto parts also cause many accidents. We’ve recently seen the recall of millions of vehicles in the U.S. for defects that have injured and killed many. Vehicles across several automakers have been recalled for defective, exploding airbags and millions of GM vehicles recalled for various problems, including faulty ignition switches. Hundreds of millions in settlements and fines have been paid over Toyota acceleration problems and the GM ignition switch defects. Early and accurate reporting of problems would have saved lives and prevented countless injuries.


NHTSA failing in investigating consumer complaints about auto safety issues

The automakers are not the only problem in the chain that leads to timely recall of defective vehicles. An audit released in late February by the Office of the Inspector General found that in addition to misreporting, NHTSA investigators charged with examining complaints and problems, are inadequately trained to spot early warning signs and identify potential vehicle problems.

Specifically, the report said that the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) relied on screeners who did not receive adequate training to conduct technical research and testing before opening investigations. This lack of training can lead to potential safety defects being missed. Auditors found that although the NHTSA does have a training plan, it has not been implemented effectively and there is the inadequate supervisory review to evaluate the quality of the work of the initial screening for consumer complaints.

The audit report stated that the process of collecting vehicle safety data is insufficient to ensure complete and accurate data. Weaknesses in the organization’s processes for analyzing vehicle safety data further undermines efforts to accurately identify safety defects. The report found that ODI received early warning reporting data and consumer complaints related to the GM ignition switch defect for more than a decade before GM notified ODI of the February 2014 recall, but incorrectly categorized some of the complaints and others lacked sufficient detail for further investigation. The audit specifically mentioned ODI staff overlooking documentation pointing to the GM ignition switch defect.

The ODI considers three factors when proposing a vehicle safety defect investigation: the rate of consumer complaints, the severity of the safety issue, and identification of a potentially defective vehicle component or cause. The organization has not developed specific guidance on how screeners would apply these factors, leading to further confusion and leaving screeners uncertain as to when to recommend or initiate an investigation.

In early March, the NHTSA held several summits to address the problem of rising traffic fatalities. The car accident attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli believe that ensuring auto and part defects are quickly and accurately reported and addressed may be part of the solution in working towards a decrease in traffic accidents and traffic fatalities.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a car or truck accident due to a defective auto or a defective part, you need an experienced attorney. The car accident attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli in Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre get results. We’ve won millions in settlement and verdicts for our clients and we can fight for you. Call today for a free consultation.  Call our Philadelphia auto defect attorneys at 215-575-9237 or our Wilkes-Barre auto defect accident lawyers at 570-714-HURT.

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With more than 40 years of combined experience, the personal injury attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli strive to provide the best service to clients in Philadelphia, Northeast Pennsylvania, and throughout the Keystone State.





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