The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finally made its Early Warning Reporting data available on its www.SaferCar.gov Web site. This was in response to Public Citizen’s successful lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests. Auto manufacturers have been submitting this important data on deaths, injuries, damage claims and possible defects since 2003, but NHTSA kept it secret in violation of the law. Public Citizen was instrumental in pushing Congress in the 2000 Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation Act, (or TREAD Act) to require reporting of early warning data after NHTSA failed to identify the defects in the Firestone tire / Ford Explorer rollovers.
While it’s a step in the right direction, NHTSA’s action fell short of complying with the spirit of the law. The agency’s searchable database is hardly user-friendly. Furthermore, NHTSA has decided to withhold critical information, such as the number of consumer complaints to the manufacturer, the number of field reports taken by company engineers and the number of claims involving death and injury. NHTSA has classified that information as confidential under pressure from the manufacturers. Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen had this to say:
The clear vision of the TREAD Act is to raise public awareness about safety defects and improve public oversight of manufacturer and NHTSA decisions on defects and recalls. This information is important to buyers of new and used vehicles and people concerned about potential defects in their vehicles. But NHTSA must provide the public a fuller and more comprehensive picture of the early warning information. Doing so will greatly benefit consumers and give automakers strong incentives to improve the safety of their vehicles. Public Citizen will seek to make this additional information public.
Hopefully, Public Citizen and other consumer and safety groups will keep the pressure on NHTSA and I believe they will. Complete disclosure to the public is needed and hopefully will eventually become a reality.
Source: Public Citizen
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