NHTSA’s Efforts To Identify Safety-Related Vehicle Defects
The Inspector General (IG) testified on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) vehicle safety oversight. The IG focused on our office’s recent assessment of the procedures NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) uses to identify vehicle safety issues that warrant further investigation. First, the IG noted that ODI lacks the procedures needed to collect complete and accurate vehicle safety data. Deficiencies in ODI’s vehicle safety data are due in part to the Agency’s lack of detailed guidance on what information manufacturers and consumers should report—resulting in inconsistent data that ODI investigative chiefs consider to be of little use. Second, the IG noted weaknesses in ODI’s processes for analyzing vehicle safety data. Specifically, ODI does not follow standard statistical practices when analyzing early warning reporting data, and it does not thoroughly screen consumer complaints or adequately train or supervise its staff. Third, the IG stated that ODI’s process for determining when to investigate potential safety defects is insufficient to prompt needed recalls and other corrective actions. While ODI has identified factors for deciding whether an investigation is warranted, it has not developed sufficient guidance or reached consensus on how these factors should be applied. ODI’s investigation decisions also lack transparency and accountability. Finally, the IG discussed how the three procedural weaknesses impeded ODI’s handling of the GM ignition switch defect—which, as of this month, has been linked to more than 110 fatalities and 220 injuries.