The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is tasked with the job of supervision the automotive industry to maintain safe vehicles. This is a very important job, as car accidents kill and maim more Americans than any other single cause, aside from suicide.
Americans drive more than three trillion miles every year, meaning we have more exposure to the potential for auto defects to kill and injure us, and certainly, the job of regulating the carmakers is complex.
Nevertheless, as we noted earlier this month, NHTSA shows many signs of having fallen victim to “regulatory capture.” When this happens, the regulator becomes more of a facilitator to the industry’s marketing department than a watchdog ordering recalls and levying fines to prevent negligent behavior.
Of the litany of defects listed by the New York Times opinion piece, none was “discovered” by NHTSA. They were all uncovered by attorneys litigating cases on behalf of injured or deceased, who suffered the results of those defects and the negligence of the auto manufacturers.
Here’s the really telling fact: The NHTSA’s budget is about $134 million. The budget for its safety defects investigation in 2014 was about $10.6 million. In 2011, General Motors’ advertising budget, in comparison, was $3.1 billion. That single year would fund NHTSA for the next 23 years.
The other sad fact is NHTSA has not ordered a recall, any recall, in 35 years. It has used is subpoena power so infrequently that the acting head of the agency was unaware it had such power.
With cars becoming ever more complex, and with more systems that can fail, NHTSA needs to significantly increase its rigorous supervision of the car industry. Without that, the record 50 million vehicles recalled and the deaths associated with those defects is likely to be surpassed next year.
The New York Times, “Weak Oversight, Deadly Cars,” Clarence Ditlow and Ralph Nader, October, 28, 2014