Why The NHTSA Isn't Exactly The Best : News
The agency responsible for overseeing the nation’s vehicle safety is full of incompetent, mismanaged staff who are practically set up by their superiors to fail. According to a recent audit by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, yes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is really that bad.
The 11-month audit, coming after a scathing House report last September, was further proof that NHTSA needs to clean house before it attempts to tackle a record number of recalls and complaints from car owners.
Baby, NHTSA’s Got Bad Blood
An average of 330 complaints flood NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation each day—that’s 78,000 a year—and only one person screens them all. About 90 percent of these complaints never get a second review, which means there’s an extraordinarily high likelihood for problems to slip by undetected. This, the audit says, leaves NHTSA “vulnerable to a single point of failure.” There is also virtually no training, coursework, or other continuing education required within the defects group. The report found that NHTSA hires people who know nothing about statistics to analyze statistics in the Early Warning Reports (EWR) manufacturers must file each quarter. Another three employees “assigned to analyze air-bag incidents lacked training in air bags.”
Eight other screeners, who conduct field investigations and read additional reports, don’t agree on how they should propose an investigation to their superiors. Half said they don’t think EWR data is of any use. One employee said he uses his “gut feeling” to determine if there’s a problem or not. Top managers don’t agree on what warrants an investigation, and screeners overlook vehicle defects that their managers typically demote, even if the problems are potentially serious.
The data is also problematic. Some of the EWR information, which divulges accidents, deaths, injuries, warranty claims, dealer reports, and owner complaints, is largely impossible to link to specific cars or incidents without contacting the manufacturer, which NHTSA has done only four times on average per year between 2010 and 2014. NHTSA has never audited any manufacturers for noncompliance with EWR data, either. The recent Honda flap in which the automaker omitted 1729 injuries and deaths only came to light as a result of Honda coming forth. The NHTSA website complaint form has vehicle-part categories that aren’t explained to the layman, and even automakers trip up when they classify their own problems. NHTSA employees also mislabel data, which is one reason why they missed GM’s ignition-switch problems (for example, they used “Unknown or Other” and “Exterior Lighting: Headlights: Switch” instead of “Electrical Systems: Ignition: Switch”).
The More (No)Things Change
We’re not sure what NHTSA can really improve without firing people and recruiting new employees who are appropriately skilled. But no matter who’s working there, the agency’s problems aren’t new. In a 1990 report from the Government Accountability Office addressing why NHTSA doesn’t explain its reasons for not recalling or investigating certain cars, the answer is simple: By law, a federal agency doesn’t have to explain a “nonenforcement decision.” The result: No one ever knows what makes NHTSA pop to attention versus what makes it snooze. NHTSA’s internal documentation on these matters, according to the audit, is sporadic or missing and is unavailable to the public. In 2015, it still takes days, if not weeks, before staff posts a recall to NHTSA’s online database. It takes NHTSA months and years beyond its own publicly stated deadlines to investigate most defects.
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Sources : NHTSA Photo | NHTSA Article