Safety advocates at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) believe that lives and property are at greater risk now because auto recalls and investigations of safety defects have ceased during the partial government shutdown.
NHTSA employees who investigate safety complaints and instruct car companies to recall vehicles have been furloughed. Although the public can still file safety complaints through the agency’s website, no one can examine those complaints until the shutdown has ended. Investigations that were formerly in the works have also been halted.
While manufacturers can still recall their vehicles voluntarily, major recalls often involve both the government and automakers negotiating.
According to safety advocate Joan Claybrook, who headed the NHTSA during the Carter administration, each year, NHTSA administers approximately 700 recalls, affecting nearly 20 million vehicles. Claybrook also adds that for every NHTSA workday lost to the furlough, an average three recalls covering 80,000 vehicles are delayed until further notice.
“Safety is being undermined,” Claybrook said. “If unsafe cars are on the highway, if the agency isn’t operating so it can’t put out consumer alerts, if it can’t finish up a recall notice that it wants to publish or negotiate with an auto company they want to do a recall, that puts the public at risk. And that could go on and on,” she said. “Who knows where this is going to end.”
Spokeswoman Meghan Keck said that NHTSA is required by law to halt current auto investigations during the government shutdown. “Automakers can continue to publicize their own recalls and consumers can continue to submit concerns through our SaferCar.gov site, which we will pursue once the shutdown is over.”
Vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Gloria Bergquist, said, “it’s just a matter of days … and auto companies are still looking out for the best interest of their own customers. Automakers, like consumers, believe NHTSA provides an important function and should be fully funded,” she said.