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Feds Blamed for Slow Walking Auto Safety Investigations

by  on  Car Accidents & Motor Vehicle Collisions

A federal safety agency is not moving fast enough to look into car defects that can pose serious threats to everyone on the road, according to a new report.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated only a small fraction of the more than 75,000 consumer complaints it received in 2019, the Transportation Department’s top watchdog concluded in a May audit. That is a real problem: Slow investigations mean that defective and malfunctioning vehicles are more likely to remain on the road, putting drivers, passengers, pedestrians and others in harm’s way.

Various problems limit the agency’s ability to respond to rapidly evolving problems or severe risks to auto safety, according to the audit by DOT’s inspector general. NHTSA additionally does not have an integrated computer system for its investigations, and does not consistently follow its own procedures for making safety problems a high priority, the audit concluded.

NHTSA was launched in 1970 in an effort to ramp up the enforcement of national vehicle safety standards. The agency is tasked with investigating consumer complaints and overseeing the recall process for defective vehicles.

“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,” the auditors explained. “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.”

The world’s largest automakers call back millions of vehicles every single year, citing a wide range of defects from shoddy brakes to manufacturing snafus that could cause engine fires. While many recalls are considered “voluntary,” they often do not happen until consumers complain or NHTSA investigators start asking questions.

The ODI made some important procedural changes in recent years as part of an effort to improve efficiency, Car and Driver reports. But it continued to fall well short of its goals for launching and completing investigations, the inspector general auditors concluded.

“The DOT found that the ODI doesn’t consistently follow procedures to determine which problems need to be prioritized and deserve an investigation,” Sebastian Blanco writes for Car and Driver. “In 2019, for example, NHTSA received 75,267 consumer complaints, and 32,482 needed ‘further substantive review.’ NHTSA issued 966 recalls that year, but the ODI only opened 88 investigations.”

Defective Cars Pose Safety Risks

When car manufacturers recall vehicles, they often cite serious safety issues, from malfunctioning airbags and seatbelts to various engine defects that pose the risk of engine fires. Some defects are so serious that they require immediate action.

More than 2.5 million vehicles are currently subject to open, urgent recalls, data compiled by CARFAX show. Those cars have “do not drive” or “park outside” warnings, highlighting the serious safety threats posed by the defects.

A “do not drive” warning is saved for the relatively rare situations in which a serious safety issue is sufficiently likely to cause an accident or physical harm. A “park outside” recall comes when vehicles have a high risk of causing a fire. The cars’ owners are advised in the latter situations to park outside of garages and parking structures and away from buildings to avoid the spread of a possible fire.

The 2.5 million number does not include the millions of other cars recalled every year over defects that increase the risk of accidents in Colorado and across the country. These recalls are often announced long after cars have left factory floors and dealership lots and sold to unsuspecting buyers.

That is a recipe for disaster.

Approximately 40% of used cars being offered for sale across the country are covered by at least one open recall that has not been addressed, according to research from Consumers’ Checkbook and the Consumer Federation of America. Federal legislation that would require used car dealers to address open recalls before they can sell covered vehicles has stalled in Congress.

CarMax, one of the world’s largest used car sellers, recently agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit brought by 36 states, accusing the company of failing to disclose open safety recalls, Reuters reports. The company also will “clearly and conspicuously” disclose open recalls before presenting other paperwork.

Injured in a Colorado Car Crash? Know Your Rights

Malfunctioning and defective vehicles just add to the risks that come with driving in places like Denver, which sees a heavy mix of car, truck, motorcycle, bike and pedestrian traffic. The city’s elevation and the harsh weather it sees during winter months also create challenges for everyone on the road.

There is some good news for people who are injured in Colorado car accidents. You have the right to seek compensation for your injuries from those responsible for the collision. 

The monetary damages available in Colorado car accident cases are meant to help an injured person get back into the financial position that he or she was in before the crash. It includes money for doctors’ bills, vehicle damage, missed wages and other impacts of the injuries.

Getting that compensation often requires going after a negligent driver and his or her insurer. Drivers are obligated under state law to operate their vehicles in a reasonably safe manner and to refrain from dangerous behavior like speeding, drinking and driving or texting behind the wheel. They generally are liable for any accidents that happen when they do not live up to this responsibility.

There are others who may also be to blame in full or in part. Manufacturers who put defective vehicles on the road, for example, may be liable depending on the circumstances. That is also true if the carmaker does not act promptly to recall and fix cars once they become aware of a defect.

Speak with a Denver Car Accident Lawyer 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a hit and run or other crash in Colorado, a Denver car accident lawyer at Levine Law can help you take action. Our attorneys combine decades of experience and a strong track record of success in the courtroom and through negotiated settlements.

We are pleased to serve clients throughout Colorado, including in Denver, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins and Loveland. Call us at 303-333-8000 or contact us online to speak with a Denver car accident lawyer.