Widespread Vehicle Defects Galvanize Government Regulators

For years, it seemed as if the officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were asleep at the wheel.
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The agency was slammed by members of Congress during hearings on Capitol Hill in which lawmakers criticized the failure to take swift, aggressive action over both the General Motors ignition switch failures in 2014 and Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems in 2009. The agency was seen as weak as it was openly challenged by Chrysler in 2013 over the recall of 2.6 million Jeep sport utility vehicles.

But now, with new leadership, it seems the agency may finally be shifting gears.

Recently, amid the airbag crisis involving Japanese manufacturer Takata, the NHTSA announced the finalization of a consent agreement in which 34 million vehicles with the faulty, exploding airbags will be recalled.

The agency’s new administrator, Mark Rosekind, had vowed when he took over in December that he would be tough on the auto industry. It appears he is working to make good on that promise.

For example, the agency is set to hold a public hearing to strong arm Fiat Chrysler to give an explanation as to why it has an extremely low completion rate for the repair of cars and trucks in 20 different recalls of 10 million vehicles.

In response to this kind of new display of force, many auto manufacturers are improving their responses to identified safety defects. For example, Toyota has long followed the accepted practice of notifying vehicle owners of product safety defects by first-class mail. This is standard procedure. However, in the wake of problems with some owners not receiving the message in time, the car company has recently taken the extra step of hiring outside firms to help track vehicle owners down to warn them of a problem.

The hope is that this kind of action will result in fewer cases – like the ignition switch issues and sudden acceleration problems – that went on for years. Insiders were aware of these defects and the fact that serious injuries and deaths were resulting. However, none took action to alert the public until years had passed. These dangerous vehicles harmed not only those who drove them, but others who shared the road with them.

For example, the ignition switch defect, which affected models from 2003 through 2011, has so far been linked to 42 deaths.

When lawsuits were filed, they were quickly settled by the auto manufacturers in the hope of halting the spread of information about the problems.

Last year, the auto industry had a record number of recalls. More than 60 million vehicles were recalled in 2014 – which was more than double the prior record that had been set in 2004. Part of the reason for that high number is the fact these companies were finally alerting the public to years-old safety defects.

Still some continue to produce and sell the public vehicles with safety flaws.

The NHTSA last year received 80,000 complaints from consumers regarding potential defects in their vehicles. That is more than double the average number.

In some cases, vehicle owners have been notified by the auto manufacturer of an issue, but there are either no replacement parts or the company can’t get them in to fix the problem for months.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
NHTSA’s Rosekind is cracking down on U.S. auto industry, May 24, 2015, By Brent Snavely and Alisa Priddle, Detroit Free Press
More Blog Entries:
Truck Guards Could Reduce Severity of Truck Encounters With Bicyclists, Pedestrians, July 9, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Defective Vehicle Lawyer Blog