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From Products Liability Law Daily, August 28, 2015

Senators call for NHTSA to increase early warning reporting requirements for automakers

By John Dumoulin

Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), both members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, have written a letter to the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reiterating a request that he call for a rulemaking to increase early warning reporting requirements for automakers so that more potentially life-saving information can be made available to NHTSA and the public (Markey-Blumenthal Letter, August 27, 2015).

The senators said that in light of the deaths associated with the General Motors ignition switch recall and the Takata airbag recalls, “additional rules to ensure transparency and early defect detection are badly needed to ensure the next fatal defect can be remedied as soon as possible.”

Markey and Blumenthal said that an appropriate rulemaking from NHTSA “should require automobile and equipment manufacturers to automatically submit accident reports or other documents that first alert them to a fatality involving their vehicle or equipment to the NHTSA Early Warning Reporting (EWR) database.” They said the rulemaking also should ensure that NHTSA makes those documents and other relevant information public in an online, searchable database.

The letter cited the examples of the GM ignition switch and Takata airbag defects to argue that if relevant information had been made public earlier, many of the subsequent deaths and injuries could have been avoided. The senators said that the GM defect was identified correctly in a 2007 document that the company submitted to NHTSA related to the deaths of two Wisconsin teenagers, but the document was not made public until May 2014. They said the Takata defect was known to Honda and Takata when an Oklahoma teenager was killed by an exploding airbag in 2009, but Honda never reported the fatality to NHTSA’s EWR database, although a secret court settlement was reached over the incident. The senators noted that both these failures were mentioned in a June 2015 audit report by the Transportation Department Inspector General that detailed “the systematic failures of NHTSA to acquire and properly analyze safety-related data.”

Markey and Blumenthal noted that NHTSA had recently taken enforcement action to fine and increase oversight of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles over the company’s improper handling of 23 vehicle safety recalls. The agency has required Fiat Chrysler to provide it “with comprehensive reporting on each death or injury incident that is reportable to NHTSA.” The senators said that while this enforcement action is an improvement over the current system and follows some of the measures they put forth in the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act, it was still inadequate since it does not require public disclosure of the information and since it only applies to one automaker.

According to a press release issued by Markey, the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act referred to in the letter would require reporting and public disclosure requirements similar to those the senators are requesting in the letter and would also “require NHTSA to consider Early Warning Reporting information when it is investigating potential safety defects and when it is evaluating citizen petitions for automobile safety standards or enforcement actions.”

Toward the conclusion of the letter, the senators said that the longer NHTSA waits to issue the requirements they are requesting, the higher will be the chance that the next fatal defect will go undetected.

Companies: American Honda Motor Co.; Chrysler; FCA US LLC; General Motors LLC; TK Holdings, Inc. (Takata)

MainStory: TopStory IndustryNews NHTSANews MotorVehiclesNews

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