Not long ago we witnessed the largest auto-safety recall in history, with the dangerous Takata airbags having been recalled from many different brands and models of vehicles. An increase in the use of parts created by a single manufacturer across vehicle brands has resulted in a number of large-scale recalls.
Yet last year, the federal agency charged with investigating auto safety issues slowed down its investigation of claims. While it is not uncommon to see a decline in enforcement and investigations during conservative administrations, this data falls far short of anything else in recent history.
A review of annual National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations spanning back to 1972 shows a sharp decline beginning in 2016. In 1989, the agency launched 204 investigations. The annual average in the years between 2006 and 2015 was 61 investigations per year.
Last year, the federal government safety watchdog launched only 13 investigations into alleged auto part defects. Not only has the NHTSA rolled back its investigations, but it also appears to be issuing fewer penalties against automakers. Not a single civil penalty has been issued against a vehicle manufacturer since December 2015.
According a law Professor at Texas Tech University who studies the regulation of the automobile industry, it is common for there to be a decline in both investigations and enforcement during conservative administrations. Conservative administrations tend to favor a more business-friendly approach, and a lowering of taxes—which means fewer resources for government watchdog agencies like the NHTSA.
This decline in investigations comes at a time when public awareness of the dangers of auto-defects is heightened. The Takata airbag scandal was certainly on the radar of national news agencies, but it was not the only one. General Motors had a massive safety issue with a defective ignition switch. There have also been issues with unconventional gearshifts causing pedestrian back-over accidents.
According to the President of a national watchdog group, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, people expect the government to protect them from defective automobiles. Without the NHTSA to hold automakers accountable for dangerous parts, even if consumers report safety problems, there is little recourse.
The NHTSA is responsible for the mandatory installation of seat belts, air bags, and safer auto body structures to protect us all in the event of a collision or other car accidents. NHTSA investigations into reported auto defects have resulted in the recall of tens of millions of cars a year. Most of these defects can be fixed at no cost to consumers. The repairs can be made at local auto dealers by qualified mechanics who are paid for their time by the manufacturer.
Many have also raised concerns about the NHTSA’s handling of self-driving technology. To date, the agency has taken a largely hands-off approach, which some say prioritizes industry profit over consumer safety.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, a defective auto part could be to blame. The experienced New Jersey product liability lawyers at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP know how to get to the bottom of what caused your accident, helping to get you answers. We routinely hold manufacturers and dealers liable for auto defects and obtain successful results for our clients. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 732-777-0100 or contact us online today. With offices located in Red Bank, Edison and Toms River, we represent clients throughout the state of New Jersey.