Can vehicles become safer and less safe at the same time? part 1

A recall of a motor vehicle is typically the last step of a sometimes lengthy process. Automobile manufacturers dislike recalls because they are both expensive to administer, requiring thousands of dealerships to perform some type of repair work, and expensive in terms of damaging customer goodwill.

After all, the car manufacturers spend millions of dollars every year on advertising, working to create a positive impression with consumers. This impression can be badly damaged by the publicity resulting from a recall, especially if the recall was triggered by fatal car accidents.

But a report from the New York Times suggests the federal agency that is supposed to police the manufacturers and protect the public’s safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is practically as adverse to recalls as automobile manufacturers.

The agency has the power to subpoena information from the carmakers and to order recalls, yet it has not ordered a recall in 34 years, nor did the agency’s director appear to recognize his agency’s authority to issue subpoenas.

This year will mark a record number of recalls by the carmakers, but NHTSA will also hand out it five-star safety ratings to two-thirds of all of the 2015 models. The recent GM recall of cars with a defective ignition switch demonstrated the problems with agency and its relationship with the auto manufacturers.

The agency had numerous reports from other sources that there were dangerous problems with the GM ignition switch, some of it dating back to 2005. According to The Times, the agency was still responding to consumer complaints a month before the recall that there was “insufficient evidence to open an investigation.”

And with NHTSA, they never seem to be able to uncover “sufficient evidence” to investigate any issue.

Next post, we will look at problems with other recalls.

The New York Times, “Regulator Slow to Respond to Deadly Vehicle Defects,” Hilary Stout, Danielle Ivory and Rebecca R. Ruiz, September 14, 2014

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