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NHTSA says that the critics are wrong about the tough lack of car makers

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Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this story included a reference to Debbie Hershman, saying that she once served with NHTSA. This information was based on the Consumer Associations report and is incorrect. Hershman chaired the National Transport Safety Board before going to Waymo. In addition, the fact that the NHTSA has verified the number of deaths associated with Toyota's unintended acceleration has resulted in the announcement. That number is five. This story has been updated to take account of this fact.

The country's main vehicle safety body has a lack of expertise to properly assess defects and has to rely too heavily on car companies, safety barristers say.

They argue that the National Road Traffic Safety Administration is reluctant to order recalls when a legal fight will exist because of its small team and its tight budget. Barristers also complain about the number of officers having the next post after NHTSA in the automobile industry.

But these were the “old days,” the agency leader told the Detroit Free Press last week. Since 2016, the agency has restructured, added to staff who have expertise in today's car technology and is more proactive, she said. Indeed, 2015-18 are the top four years for recalls in US history.

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“Automation shares information with us, but I don't think we only hear information and hanging,” said Deputy Administrator Heidi King, who is awaiting confirmation of the Senate to become an NHTSA administrator. no-one here is complicated to take the phone and call and ask further questions. We take very seriously that we get it right. ”

Auto fatal accidents are increasing, with recent data showing. (Photo: AP) t

The proof is in the future. For example, in some of the largest vehicle recalls in history Firestone coins on Ford Explorer SUVs, Toyota's unintended acceleration crisis, General Motors faulty ignition switches and Takata airbags, NHTSA did not act until many people were killed or injured.

"GM told them that the ignition switches were not an issue.", Said Janette Fennell, founder and president of the KidsAndCars.org safety advocacy agency, referring to a fault involving 124 deaths in the end. "You don't believe the fox when it's in the hen house."

Seán Kane, president of the Research and Safety Strategies, said, “They are always going to be behind the curve. The key to this agency is the setting of good standards. This would help to reduce the number of problems arising from the enforcement or fault side. ”

Picking battles

The Free Press examined the NHTSA record and interviewed the agency's main administrator following our Out of Gear investigation into defective Ford Motor Co. Ltd.. on Focus and Fiesta sedans starting with Fiesta 2011. In that case, federal regulators in 2014 brought Ford and refused to conduct a formal investigation or order a recall for transmission repairs, despite thousands of consumer complaints to the agency covering 50. injuries.

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Typically, NHTSA investigates defects in the case of loss of motive power – the energy used to drive the car – without warning the driver that the car cannot control, Kane said.

"But the waters are very slow and inconsistent then," said Kane, who has studied his company on Ford transmission problems.

Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies (Photo: Chelsea Smith)

"Ford argued that the driver gets a notification – a light comes service," Kane said. "NHTSA could accept that, though not enough."

Such warning light was added to the Fiesta and Focus, but not until 2015 "to satisfy the needs of NHTSA more easily," Ford documents from the time show.

Kane said that the agency would be reluctant to act because of the high cost of fixing millions of cars with severe damage. It is likely that Ford would stand, he said.

"Ultimately, NHTSA would have to engage with a well-funded company that knows the issue inside and outside. You have a small agency, a small team and limited resources. fight so choose? " Kane said. "That's why I say, if you have a big fault, you'll get rid of it."

Spend him money

NHTSA's leadership states that the agency is more proactive.

Last year, the agency received 65,000 consumer vehicle questionnaires, 29,000 of which were safety complaints, said King, who established her career in risk management and previously worked as an emergency medical technician. possession of car crash victims. ”

Since 2016, NHTSA has been restoring its processes to be more proactive in tackling safety problems, while complying with a stronger and more consistent process, King said. This resulted in fewer open investigations of possible safety faults as the problems are recalled and fixed, says King. NHTSA currently has 63 open investigations, she said. Last year, the agency oversaw 914 vehicles recovered from a total of 29 million vehicles. In 2017, he supervised 810 repeals that affected 31 million cars, he said.

Under the recall system, automakers issue voluntary recalls that take account of the vast majority of these activities. NHTSA can order recalls if it sees a safety risk and the automator has not acted, although it may be subject to litigation.

“There are fewer things we see with a formal investigation because things will be remembered earlier. When it comes to mind, NHTSA oversees it, "the King said." In many cases, we work closely with the manufacturer to raise consumer awareness that the arrangement is free and quick. "

In 2016, for example, NHTSA launched a compliance assistance hotline to educate automation on safety standards. More automakers are working with their suppliers on reminders now than before, she said. The agency has contributed to the staff and is recruiting to include more engineers and consultants with expertise to "ensure that we keep the technology changing," said King.

“How we review things now: Staff review each other's work, and there is an open challenge culture,” said King. “Then, once a week, there is another challenging level by looking at what is emerging in the owners' reviews.”

A small budget

The agency comes under the Department of Transport, which oversees airlines, railways, trucking, water transit and highway infrastructure to name a few. While the majority of deaths involving transport occur in cars, NHTSA receives only 1% -2% of the DOT budget. Last year, the total DOT budget was $ 76 billion, while NHTSA received only $ 899 million, according to the DOT website. By comparison, the airline industry received $ 16 billion.

"Put your money in where your problems are," said Fennell, president of KidsAndCars.org. "This has been going on for years. The budget goes to other agencies."

The agency's budget has been fair in recent years, but Congress gave more than it was asked, King said. He has a large budget to do the job efficiently because the burden of identifying a safety fault and initiating memory of the automation, the King said.

“We are an aggressive safety supervisory agency,” said the King. “That's part of the reason why our budget is lower. We have the investigators who have the ability to introduce information from the manufacturers so that we do not have to do all the research for ourselves. If I needed more money, I'd like to ask it. ”

Lucrative Lures

Joan Claybrook would not be happy. She is familiar with NHTSA's thin budget, having run the agency from 1977-81. Its budget should be three times more than it will be effective now, she said.

"They never had the money to do the right job, and this includes personnel, equipment and skill," Claybrook told the Free Press.

The top also has a severe lack of attention, said Claybrook, who now works with the Road Safety and Auto Safety Counsel, who helped her in 1989. The NHTSA's administrator has a huge amount of authority, but, she confirmed, Some leaders hope to win a valuable job by an automator.

In fact, a watch watch report, a non-profit public interest group, in December 2018 that six senior safety officers left a top position recently at the agency to work for self-driving car companies.

“You can't trust regulations to protect our safety when the people who write high paid jobs think the big companies are to be covered,” said John Simpson, Director of Privacy and Technology Projects. Consumer, in the December report.

Last year, Uber hired Nat Beuse, a senior officer of NHTSA. The report of the Consumer Watchtower noted that Ron Medford, a former deputy director of NHTSA, joined a Google self-driving car program as a safety director. Former NHTSA Administrator, Mark Rosekind, began Zoox's self-driving start in 2017, and former NHTSA Chief Counsel, Paul Hemmersbaugh, joined General Motors to oversee legal and policy work on automated cars. Finally, David Strickland, former administrator of NHTSA, is a barrister and spokesperson for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, consisting of Waymo, Lyft, Uber, Ford and Volvo.

The jump from NHTSA to a profitable private sector-driven job is a recent development. The 1984-2010 watchdog said that the general inspector of the Department of Transport found that 40 NHTSA officers left for jobs with automation, their law firms or automatic industry advisors.

Ford-Firestone

One of the biggest safety crises in recent history has been the separation of Firestone base on US Explorer SUVs in 2000. In that case, the tires could fail, thereby triggering rollover accidents. The fault is linked to 271 deaths and 800 injuries in the United States.

But NHTSA stopped investigating or issuing a recall, Kane said.

“A series of gruesous high profile results and resulting news stories about the safety of Ford Explorers and Firestone coins forced NHTSA to begin to investigate,” Kane said as evidence before the National Academy of Sciences in 2011.

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But the problem was communicated to the agency a year earlier. In 1998, a State Farm researcher emailed the agency detailing 21 cases of the Firestone tires, Los Angeles Times reported in 2000. The article stated that the NHTSA had not ignored the warning, and 26 similar reports were not given by investigators. indicated that consumers had previously launched the agency.

Jason Vines, former president of Ford Motor Communications, on 14 June, 2001, at the same time, with Richard Parry-Jones, Vice President of the World Development and Quality Group, speaking about the Firestone Tire Replacement Program and Explorer Safety Analysis. . (Photo: Bill Pugliano, Getty Images)

The NHTSA investigation on the Explorer did not receive any reasons for the SUV that was constantly selling from America in the fatal crashes associated with a base, Kane said in his evidence in 2011.

In August 2000, Bridgestone / Firestone and Ford remembered some 14.4 million tires which were original equipment on Ford vehicles, particularly the Explorer.

After all the recalls of faulty tires were announced, tire-based rollover deaths decreased temporarily, and then spilled, Kane gave evidence. However, he said, "There was no further action by the agency as a result of a secret investigation into the additional deaths."

Kane said the Explorer had a fundamental design defect at the time that the driver increased the risk of the driver losing control of the vehicle at highway speeds. That is the sort of problem that is expensive to fix, so it is often ignored, "said Kane." So, with the repeal, were the coins changed, but was the problem being solved?

The problem was that NHTSA had not updated the stability and handling standards since 1972 despite being popular with SUVs, he said.

"The hanging roof standard remained in place until 2012," Kane said. "People were being killed because the Explorer roof went in."

Toyota's unintended acceleration

On August 28, 2009, Mark Saylor, California Highway Patrol Officer, was driving a Lexus ES350 sedan in 2009 when he, his wife, daughter and brother-law were killed when the car's accelerator was stuck and hit into an embankment in San Diego.

The accident was arrested on call 911 by the Saylor wife. At the time of the accident, NHTSA did not have an open investigation into Toyota's sudden acceleration, the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer group.

But starting in 2001, when an electronic regulator was introduced in 2002 with Toyota Camry cars and Lexus ES300, "four times" complaints from consumers increased in Toyota and Lexus models, the Center for Auto Safety wrote. NHTSA received five defect petitions, rejected four and ordered a vehicle safety recall, according to the Auto Safety Center.

"The investigations as a whole show a significant weakness in the NHTSA's enforcement program which Toyota used to avoid recalls to the tragic disaster in San Diego in August 2009," the Center for Auto Safety t Write in a report.

Toyota recalled almost 8 million vehicles in the United States on two mechanical defects. The NHTSA estimated that 89 deaths can be attributed to unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles in the United States from 2000-09.

In the 2011 report, the NHTSA said that further investigation was found due to an unintended acceleration of five deaths that it could declare. NHTSA has stated that this is its final figure.

As for Kane, the crisis emerged partly because NHTSA investigators do not understand the technology they are investigating and what they took as truth from Toyota in unintended acceleration was very incompetent.

NHTSA did not set standards for electronic acceleration control systems, it said.

“Almost every other day, we call a consumer with a Toyota acceleration event,” said Kane. "On the good times, most are happening at low speed."

GM ignition change

On February 6, 2014, General Motors began recalling 800,000 of its small cars, such as the Saturn ion and the Chevrolet Cobalt, which had faulty ignition switches that could stop the engine during driving, steering and locking brakes, preventing airbags from infusion in an accident.

GM continued to recall more of his cars in the following months, leaving almost 30 million cars worldwide remembered.

Key in Chevrolet Cobalt 2005 ignition switch. In 2017, General Motors agreed to pay $ 120 million in a multi-state settlement where switch ignition on small cars. (Photo: Molly Riley, AP)

But GM was aware of the fault of ignition change as early as 2001, while the Saturn ion car was still under development, said the Center for Auto Safety.

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Even after reports of fatalities and injuries due to faults, “GM canceled plans to make a wide remedy, instead of issuing Technical Service Bulletins in 2005 and 2006 which provided guidance to dealers to respond to complaints. owner by advising owners to remove heavy items from their key chains, "wrote the Auto Safety Center in a report.

The public and the NHTSA learned about the flawed defect from a lawyer in Marietta, Georgia, named Lance Cooper who had sued GM on behalf of a woman's family who died in an accident.

Through the deposits of some GM engineers and through receiving documents, Cooper set the recall stage, Kane said.

" He did a garda work, "Kane said." His GM work really added, and GM knew that he had to do something. Then Lance went to NHTSA. "

In the end, 124 were killed by the defective switches and GM paid $ 900 million to the US government as part of a deferred criminal prosecution agreement.

The Center for Motor Safety wrote, "GM has overall responsibility for not recalling these vehicles in 2005 and changing the design for future models, but NHTSA also has responsibility for not repealing and making an order by 2007 when he discovered the fault and that GM had not repealed. "

Grilled regulators

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra gave evidence to the Conference in April 2014, also featuring David Friedman, the active NHTSA Administrator. The written evidence from Friedman adds to the blame for GM that it does not provide "critical information" to regulators that may have caused in recent years.

But the Center for Auto Safety said that it had discovered NHTSA's internal records that showed the agency's fault through Special Crash Investigations into the advanced airbag systems in 2005 Carv carlet. Then, in 2007, NHTSA spoke to GM about the fault and opened an initial evaluation to see if a fault investigation was needed. No formal investigation was carried out, and the center wrote in a report.

The report said that in 2010 the agency carried out another evaluation with the same outcome. NHTSA also received records of 17 claims and claims from GM on Chevrolet carriages and Saturn cars through its Early Warning Reporting System, but retained the records from the public.

In 2015, the Department of Transport identified a series of failures by NHTSA which enabled millions of defective GM cars to go unresolved for more than a decade, The New York Times reported at the time.

The department blamed the blame for GM, but there was a "blatant dissatisfaction of mistakes made by regulators," The Times said. For example, the agency admitted that she refused some tips about blame and acknowledged that she had failed to use full authority to hold GM.

The audit said that NHTSA Investigations Office Faults did not ask many detailed questions to gather information that may detect defects or failure trends. For example, he said that only 15 codes of wide defects while modern vehicles have more than 15,000 parts.

When consumers reported potential faults, the complaints were not thoroughly investigated by the NHTSA, the audit was received. Of the 330 complaints that could arrive at noon, 90% of them are "set aside."

Last week said that is the case.

NHTSA fix

Staff and inadequate training were blamed over the years for NHTSA deficits. An effort has been made on the teeth.

  • Following the Firestone bug, a new car safety law was introduced in 2000 which included more money for NHTSA to employ more investigators, Los Angeles Times reported in 2000.
  • The agency also made a number of personnel changes in its planned investigations and improvements office in its data collection.
  • Following the 2015 Department of Transport report, the NHTSA said it was reviewing its investigation procedures, building on efforts to obtain safety data from automation and creating external supervisory staff to initiate changes.

But in July last year, the DOT general inspector issued a report on NHTSA's management of vehicle recalls that outlined numerous shortcomings.

  • The NHTSA process has no management documentation or controls to monitor vehicle recalls.
  • It does not ensure that medicines are fully and timely reported.
  • The agency does not verify the recall rates.
  • There is insufficient management to ensure that staff assess risk when deciding on the use of supervisory tools to improve recall rates.
  • Finally, the report addressed the agency's handling of the 2014 recall of 42 million vehicles worldwide for fatal installations in Takata airbags. He said, "while NHTSA extended its oversight of the Takata recalls in 2015, by increasing the reporting requirements for manufacturers, it did not follow its own procedures to recall lower memory rates for earlier records. Takata. "

New organization

Not only do NHTSA's lack of consistent procedures fail to address defects, but to prevent further damage, safety advocates said.

For example, in 2012, a legal conference passed the NHTSA to write a regulation by October 2015 that car seat reminders must insert a seatbelt for each seat in a vehicle, not just the driver seats and passengers.

NHTSA failed to meet this deadline, said Fennell KidsAndCars.org. So last year, its group and the Auto Safety Center sued the DOT. The court made it clear that it expected to publish a proposed DOT by 31 October, 2018. NHTSA failed again and extended the date to 31 May, 2019.

"Without any surprise, they didn't do that either. I don't know what they're doing," said Fennell. "In that time, thousands of people have died from not being buckled up in the rear seat."

If strong regulations and operational standards were in place, consumers would be safer, Kane said.

"It won't go off a broken part or out of something that goes wrong in the manufacturing, but if you look at the major crises – the Ford Explorer, GM ignition switches … all these things, use lots of money and time for the agency to handle, "Kane said. "If they were not handling these crises, they could handle other defects better, but these crises are affecting the enforcement side."

The boss of the NHTSA King said that the changes he sets on motion continue tapping.

“The engineers who do this work have embraced and challenge each other and if they see a way to improve the system, they themselves and they drive it,” said the King. assessment. ”

Contact Jamie L. LaReau at jlareau@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2019/07/22/nhtsa-traffic-safety/1793205001/

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