Behind Closed Doors: Why Most Auto Safety Issues & Defects Stay Secret
Almost every day, we hear about auto safety recalls concerning a range of vehicle-related problems such as fire risks, defective seatbelts, tires or airbags. What we don't know, according to an in-depth report by USA Today, is that recalls do not happen even when injuries and fatalities relating to a specific problem have been reported to the manufacturers and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which oversees auto safety issues.
The article gives the example of 15 fatal tire-related crashes last year in Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer vehicles. Between April 2002 and 2009, there were 375 fatalities in mostly older model Explorers and Mountaineers, nearly four times the number that led to the Ford/Firestone recall in 2000.
However, neither the governmental safety agency nor Ford has recalled these vehicles. Ford officials basically said that they reviewed the situation and found "no unique tire issues."
Disturbing Trend of Secrecy
Under the law, automakers are required to tell NHTSA about claims they receive and about serious injuries and deaths in their vehicles. NHTSA may investigate some or all of these claims. However, information about the probes and many of the injuries or fatalities are only available to the public and the news media through what is known as a Freedom of Information Act request. Even in those cases, automakers have the upper hand because they can ask that information they submit to the agency be sealed or kept confidential.
A disturbing trend many safety advocates are observing now is the fact that while a lot of information is posted on NHTSA's website about official safety investigations relating to auto defects, a number of the so-called informal investigations that also involve injuries and fatalities are quietly slipping under the radar. This is a serious problem for consumers because they don't have the critical data they need in order to make informed decisions about purchasing safe vehicles.
There are many examples of cases where the recall came much after the injuries and fatalities had been reported. For example, in November 2011, NHTSA announced a formal probe into Chevy Volts for fire hazards.
However, it had been quietly testing Volts six months before that announcement after a car caught fire weeks after a crash test. This disturbing trend extends to child safety seats as well. For example, Evenflo and NHTSA recalled more than 1 million Discovery child car seats in January 2008. But the agency had been testing the seats for nearly a year over concerns about how the seats fared in crash tests.
Safety Not a Primary Concern
The reality is that in many instances, safety is not the primary consideration for automakers. Having represented numerous victims of defective autos, we see that in this day and age, where technology is available to make vehicles safer than ever, some automakers still choose to make dangerous vehicles.
We have also seen evidence of the fact that some automakers will neither recall vehicles with dangerous defects nor effectively notify the owners of defective vehicles or even warn consumers about these defects. We have even seen evidence of the fact that some automakers insist on using cheap parts and designs because they are in a rush to get the products out in the market. Of course, it saves them money and increases profits. But, on the other hand, they are knowingly exposing us, the consumers, to mortal danger.
While this may come as a shock to many, auto product liability attorneys have known all along that this has been the auto industry's mode of operation. Of course, they do issue "voluntary" recalls from time and time and provide the safety devices required under the law. But rarely is any of this done out of their own volition.
The Need for More Transparency
NHTSA should make a conscious attempt to enhance transparency. If a potentially defective vehicle has resulted in injuries and fatalities, then, the public should be notified about it. While NHTSA thinks to protect automakers and their brand names, who is looking out for the average consumer? Shouldn't a governmental entity that bills itself as the "auto safety agency" fulfill that role and be a watchdog for the consumer?
Anyone who has been injured in a car accident would be well advised to preserve the vehicle in its current crashed state, unaltered, so it can be thoroughly examined by an expert for defects and malfunctions. It is important to do this even if your vehicle has not been recalled. We know that a recall doesn't necessarily happen when a vehicle is defective.
The vehicle is the most important piece of evidence in a car accident or an auto product liability case. This is especially true in single-vehicle collisions where insurance companies will try to pin the blame on the driver. If you have been injured in a crash, which you suspect was caused by a defective vehicle, please contact an experienced auto product defect lawyer to obtain more information about moving forward and pursuing your legal rights.Call Bisnar Chase at 949-203-3814.