NHTSA's September Scrutiny

02 October 2014 Dashboard Insights Blog

September was a difficult month for NHTSA. During one week alone, a New York Times article blasted NHTSA for failing to investigate a number of defects that later resulted in injuries and fatalities and, ultimately, recalls; the House Energy & Commerce Committee issued a scathing report concerning NHTSA’s handling of the GM ignition switch defect; and Deputy NHTSA Administrator David Friedman was grilled by the Senate Commerce Committee over the GM ignition switch defect and NHTSA’s oversight of the automotive industry generally.

Here are the key points from Deputy Administrator Friedman’s appearance before the Senate committee:

  • NHTSA will continue to be more aggressive as it implements the “new normal” (Friedman’s phrase) in addressing defects.
  • NHTSA is continuing to push for legislation (the Administration’s proposed Grow America Act) that would, among other things, raise the maximum penalty for violations of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act to $300 million. Some senators want no limit for violations of the Act. (Various bills that would increase the civil penalty maximum, among other things, are currently pending.)
  • NHTSA has been increasing its import enforcement activity, working closely with Customs to prevent defective or noncompliant products from entering the U.S.
  • There were repeated questions over why NHTSA hasn’t used its subpoena power to obtain information from manufacturers. NHTSA responded that the agency regularly uses a similar power—Information Requests—with success.
  • The DOT’s Office of Inspector General has been conducting an audit of NHTSA’s pre-investigation processes, including the activities of NHTSA’s Defects Assessment Division, which reviews service bulletins and customer complaints.
  • NHTSA recently advised vehicle manufacturers that it “should never hide critical safety information under the cloak of attorney-client privilege.”
  • NHTSA came under questioning over its regional recall policy. Some Senators (and many auto safety advocates) oppose this policy and believe all recalls should be national in scope.
  • Senator Markey announced that he reached an agreement with GM on a bill that would require greater disclosure of manufacturers’ early warning data (warranty claims, customer complaints, etc.).
  • NHTSA has missed a statutory deadline under the MAP-21 (the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) for making technical service bulletins available online. The agency attributed some of the delay to copyright issues.
  • Deputy Administrator Friedman stated that not all stalls present an unreasonable safety risk, but Senator Blumenthal and others disagreed. Those senators (and auto safety advocates) believe consumers would view any stall as an unreasonable safety risk.
  • Going forward, NHTSA will demand that manufacturers provide an analysis of each fatality incident for which NHTSA sends a Death Inquiry (“DI”) letter. Previously, this question was optional, and most manufacturers opted not to provide a response, but the Senate panel (and the New York Times article cited above) criticized NHTSA for giving manufacturers the option not to respond.

An archived recording of the hearing can be viewed on the Senate Commerce Committee website, here.  

This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.

Related Services

Insights

Do You Know What IMMEX Stands For?
16 July 2019
Dashboard Insights
Does The U.S. Need STRONGER Patents?
16 July 2019
PTAB Trial Insights
California Establishes Fund to Combat Wildfire Threats
15 July 2019
Renewable Energy Outlook
There’s No Place Like Home – But Is That a Reasonable Accommodation?
15 July 2019
Labor & Employment Law Perspectives
Review of 2020 Medicare Changes for Telehealth
11 December 2019
Member Call
2019 NDI Executive Exchange
14-15 November 2019
Chicago, IL
MAGI’s Clinical Research Conference
29 October 2019
Las Vegas, NV
Association for Corporate Counsel Annual Meeting 2019
27-30 October 2019
Phoenix, AZ