The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is considering changes in the way it publicizes penalties against auto manufacturers after it failed to publicize collecting millions of dollars in fines from Ford Motor Company for its failure to notify agency regulators in a timely manner of a safety defect in some of its sport utility vehicles.
NHTSA officials launched a preliminary investigation on July 17, 2012 of Ford Escape SUVs made in 2001-2004, following consumer complaints of poorly performing accelerator pedals. Eight days later, Ford notified the NHTSA that it planned to recall more than 423,000 of the Escape models.
NHTSA investigators found evidence indicating the automaker knew about the faulty throttles for some time but failed to notify NHTSA officials and to plan a recall within the proper time frame as U.S. safety regulations require.
The throttle assemblies had the potential to stick and fail to return to idle when released, presenting speed-control problems for drivers of the affected models.
Ford agreed to pay the U.S. $17.35 million to settle the NHTSA’s claims that it had failed to notify the agency of the defect. But the first media reports of the penalty did not appear until August 1 because the NHTSA did not issue a news release as it normally does when safety violations are resolved.
“I never want anybody in this room to feel like that this was something that was being hidden or not transparent,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told reporters at a Washington Automotive Press Association conference on August 14, saying that his agency would implement measures so that such information would be readily accessible to the public.
According to the Detroit News, Mr. Strickland said that Ford had contacted consumers about the recall and that there was no new information to report. “This was purely a fine situation for timeliness,” he said. “While it is large, it is a process fine and that’s why we didn’t issue a press release.”
The Detroit News says that the NHTSA regularly publicizes such fines, but the agency says that it does not report all of them. Policies addressing the discrepancy are currently being reviewed by NHTSA policymakers.