Ford Motor Co. was recently fined $17.35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for taking too long to recall 2002-2004 Ford Escapes and Mazda Tributes. Unfortunately, the path to this fine followed a long route of fatalities, each of which could have been prevented if Ford had properly recalled the vehicles or if NHTSA had adequately monitored Ford’s recall procedures.
In early 2004, Ford issued a recall on 2002-2004 Ford Escapes and Mazda Tributes to fix a throttle that could get stuck open, causing an unexpected and sudden unintended acceleration of the vehicles. Later, Ford realized the repair procedures required by the recall were actually increasing the odds that the throttle could become stuck in the wide-open acceleration position. In 2005, Ford sent a bulletin warning dealers and informing them that federal law required them to do a new repair. Instead of Ford re-notifying customers that their original repairs were in need of correction, Ford took a “let’s wait and see approach,” and that proved to be a bad decision.
In August 2005, Marta Baier was severely injured after her 2003 Escape suddenly accelerated and collided with another vehicle. In December 2005, Mary Delvascovo was involved in a fatal collision with a school bus after her 2004 Escape’s throttle system became stuck open. Each of these vehicles had the original recall repair but not the second, which was the corrected one.
In 2012, NHTSA finally opened an investigation after the death of Saige Bloom, a 17-year-old driver. Ms. Bloom was driving her newly acquired used car home, with her mother following her in another car. She had purchased a 2002 Ford Escape. While Ms. Bloom was heading home, the Escape suddenly accelerated, crashed, and Ms. Bloom later died as a result of her injuries. In defending itself to NHTSA, Ford stated that “the condition resulted from damage induced by improper service,” but there was not enough information for “identification of a cause.” This was even though Ford clearly knew about the cause and problem back in 2005 when it first issued the service bulletin. Ford ultimately accepted the $17.35 million penalty to avoid possible litigation.
These events raise an obvious question: Why didn’t NHTSA act quicker? The answer lies in the fact that NHTSA has yet to establish procedures for determining whether a manufacturer has adequately met its recall obligations. The NHTSA does not monitor data in the short term to see whether deadly defects are actually being fixed – which is the purpose of a recall. Unfortunately, until the NHTSA does act to set procedures for their own monitoring of recalls, it will continue to take repeated fatalities for the NHTSA to action.
Sources: safetyresearch.net and LATimes.com
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