What We Looked At
The impacts of a motor vehicle safety defect can be significant. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act authorizes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate motor vehicle safety issues and requires manufacturers to notify the Agency of all safety-related defects involving unreasonable risk of accident, death, or injury. NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) plays a key role by gathering and analyzing relevant information, investigating potential defects, identifying unsafe motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment, and managing the recall process. Given the impact NHTSA’s efforts to adequately address safety defects have on the traveling public, we initiated this audit to assess ODI’s current processes for investigating and identifying safety defects. Specifically, we analyzed ODI’s risk-based oversight procedures for prioritizing its work, determining which issues were appropriate for investigation, and evaluating potential risks of harm posed by potential safety defects.
What We Found
NHTSA’s ODI has made progress promoting a safer transportation system for the traveling public by restructuring its office, modernizing its data repository and analysis systems, and enhancing its risk-based investigative processes to assess safety-related defects. However, ODI did not meet its timeliness goals for the five types of investigations we examined, and the Agency did not upload investigation documentation to its public website in a timely manner. ODI does not have an integrated information system to facilitate the safety defect investigation and recall processes. Furthermore, ODI does not consistently document information used for investigating and identifying potential defects and unsafe motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment in the Agency’s internal and external files. In addition, ODI does not consistently follow its procedures for issue escalation and lacks guidance for other pre-investigative efforts.
We made 12 recommendations to help NHTSA improve its risk-based processes for investigating and identifying potential motor vehicle and equipment safety defects. NHTSA concurred with 10 of our 12 recommendations, partially concurred with 1 recommendation, and did not concur with 1 recommendation. NHTSA proposed alternate action for the recommendation with which it did not concur. We consider all 12 recommendations resolved but open pending implementation.