Audit Reports

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NHTSA’s Management of Light Passenger Vehicle Recalls Lacks Adequate Processes and Oversight

Mandated by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act
Project ID: 
ST2018062

What We Looked At
Since 2008, auto manufacturers have issued dozens of recalls for vehicles equipped with defective airbags manufactured by Takata. To date, 15 fatalities and more than 220 injuries in the United States alone have been linked to the defective airbags. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that, as of January 2018, the Takata recalls have affected 37 million vehicles. 

In December 2015, Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which required our office to audit NHTSA’s recall processes. This mandate stemmed from congressional concerns about the Agency’s handling of the Takata airbag recall. Accordingly, our audit objectives were to assess NHTSA’s processes for (1) monitoring manufacturers’ proposed recall remedies and scope and (2) overseeing safety recall implementation, including the sufficiency of recall completion rates. 

What We Found
NHTSA’s process for monitoring for light passenger vehicle recalls lacks documentation and management controls, and does not ensure that remedies are reported completely and in a timely manner. The Agency also does not verify recall completion rates, although it has the authority to do so, and it lacks sufficient management controls to ensure staff assess risk when deciding whether to use oversight tools to improve recall completion rates. Finally, while NHTSA expanded its oversight of the Takata recalls in 2015, by increasing the reporting requirements for manufacturers, it did not follow its own procedures to address low recall completion rates for earlier Takata recalls. Overall, inadequate controls and processes for verifying and collecting manufacturer-reported information have hindered NHTSA’s ability to oversee safety recall implementation.

Our Recommendations
We made six recommendations to improve NHTSA’s processes for monitoring recall remedies and scope, and overseeing safety recall implementation. NHTSA concurred in full with three of the recommendations and partially concurred with the others.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

No. 1 to NHTSA

Develop and implement a risk-based process to monitor manufacturers' reporting of recall remedy, scope, and risk information. The process should include taking appropriate steps with manufacturers that are not in compliance, including enforcement actions when necessary, as well as verifying information submitted by manufacturers, and identifying and addressing potential inadequacies of recall remedies and scope.

No. 2 to NHTSA

Develop and implement a risk-based process—with specific timelines—that provides guidance for Office of Defects Investigation staff on identifying recalls with missing communications (e.g., dealer notifications, technical service bulletins), taking appropriate action to resolve the deficiency, and documenting the outcomes in an official recordkeeping system.

No. 3 to NHTSA

In accordance with the Government Accountability Office's Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government and NHTSA's procedures, develop, implement, and document management controls, including a supervisory review process, for monitoring recall remedies, scope, and risk reporting and oversight of recall implementation.

No. 4 to NHTSA

Develop a training curriculum on staff responsibilities for updated recall monitoring and oversight processes, and provide this training to Office of Defects Investigation and Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance staff.

No. 5 to NHTSA

Update the recall reporting portal and issue written guidance to identify all recall scope, risk, and completion rate information that regulations require manufacturers to submit.

No. 6 to NHTSA

Document lessons learned from the Takata recalls, and develop and implement a plan for applying those lessons to help manufacturers improve completion rates of other recalls.