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Committee Spotlights Failures at Auto Safety Regulator


The Energy and Commerce committee released a new report on Tuesday chronicling how the nation’s auto safety regulator repeatedly missed opportunities to identify a dangerous safety defect. The report detailed the findings of the committee’s investigation into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) role in the General Motors ignition switch recall, specifically the agency’s failure to act on the deadly defect despite access to information as early as 2007 that could have identified the problem.

In March, the committee launched its investigation into both GM’s and NHTSA’s role in the delay of the ignition switch recall. The committee’s investigation identified a series of actions by GM that caused this massive safety breakdown, and the committee also found NHTSA dropped the ball on its safety oversight responsibilities. The report released on Tuesday focused on NHTSA’s review of this defect and how it failed to live up to the expectation of the nation’s automobile safety regulator. The report was released just hours before NHTSA Acting Administration David Friedman testified before a Senate panel, and despite the evidence laid out in the report and clear admonitions from both Republican and Democratic Senators, Friedman still failed to acknowledge NHTSA’s mistakes and commit to changes.

The Energy and Commerce Committee will continue its oversight of NHTSA to ensure that the agency is operating effectively and that cars on the road are safe. Upon release of the report, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) said, “We’ll keep looking for answers, and keep working toward solutions – whether it means changing our laws or pressing for change at the companies that follow them and the agencies that enforce them – but we know for sure that NHTSA was part of the problem and is going to have to be part of the solution.” 

September 16, 2014

NHTSA Failed to Spot GM Ignition Switch Issue As Early As 2007

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should have known a faulty General Motors Co. ignition switch was cutting off power to air bags in its vehicles as early as 2007 but either overlooked evidence or failed to grasp it, according to a congressional report.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee report criticizes auto-safety regulators and GM for failing to take action on the safety defect linked to at least 19 deaths. That number is expected to increase.

While GM was chided for not taking the appropriate measures, the harshest criticism fell on NHTSA for not holding itself to the same standard of accountability of those it regulates, according to the report. It allowed an investigation of crashes involving GM cars to continue for years without pinpointing the problem. …

The agency was also faulted for not making any changes to its internal structure while GM has taken many steps including hiring a safety chief and intensifying its reporting process when a vehicle problem and potential recall is discovered.

“Five months later, there is no evidence, at least publicly, that anything has changed at the agency,” according to the report. “No one has been held accountable and no substantial changes have been made. NHTSA and its employees admit they made mistakes but the lack of urgency in identifying and resolving those shortcomings raises questions about the agency’s commitment to learning from this recall.”

The report concluded that the tragedy must serve as a reminder that safety is a collective responsibility. “GM, as a company, lost sight of this and thus failed to identify a defect that was staring them in the face for over a decade. This was not isolated to one individual, division or team. GM suffered from a culture of complacency,” the report said.

“NHTSA also lacked the focus and rigor expected of a federal safety regulator. The agency’s repeated failure to identify, let alone explore, the potential defect theory related to the ignition switch—even after it was spelled out in a report the agency commissioned—is inexcusable.”

Read the full article online HERE

September 16, 2014

Regulators Are Faulted in Defects at General Motors

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators had ample information to identify the dangerous ignition defect in General Motors’ Chevrolet Cobalt and other cars as early as 2007, a House committee investigating the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found. …

The report details how investigators from the agency repeatedly discounted information that did not match their assumptions — at one point a staff member referred to their efforts as “beating a dead horse.” As a result, many of G.M.’s small cars, which had defective ignition switches that were prone to turn off and disable air bags, continued to crash, sometimes with fatal results.

Making matters worse, some agency officials did not seem to understand the air bag technology at the heart of the case: At one point, the chief of the agency’s Defects Assessment Division wrote that he did not believe G.M.’s air bags were supposed to deploy when a driver was not wearing a seatbelt.

The initial report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee is based on 15,000 pages of agency documents and dozens of interviews with its staff.

“It is tragic that the evidence was staring N.H.T.S.A. in the face and the agency didn’t identify the warnings,” said Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan, the chairman of the committee. “N.H.T.S.A. exists not just to process what the company finds, but to dig deeper. They failed.” …

Read the full article online HERE

September 16, 2014

House Report: NHTSA Missed Signs of GM Ignition Switch Issue

The top auto safety regulator in the U.S. missed signs of the ignition-switch problem that plagued more than two million vehicles made by General Motors (GM), according to a new congressional report.

A memo published on Tuesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee said a 2007 accident report from a Wisconsin State Trooper, who correctly linked a failed air-bag deployment to the defective ignition switch, was reviewed by investigators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. ….

Lawmakers have criticized GM and regulators over their handling of the defective ignition switches used in 2.6 million cars worldwide. A GM investigation led by Anton Valukas, a former U.S. attorney, concluded that cultural issues inside the automaker contributed to a long delay in recalling the affected cars.

Valukas used terms like the “GM salute” and “GM nod” to describe how employees delegated responsibility and didn’t follow through on a course of action. Similarly, the House memo said a “NHTSA shrug” existed at the regulator.

“NHTSA too suffered from a lack of accountability, poor information sharing, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the vehicles, all which contributed to the failure to identify and fix this deadly defect,” Tim Murphy (R-PA), Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said in a statement. “Both GM and NHTSA had a responsibility to act, and both share culpability in this safety failure.”

The House committee, which targeted GM for its “tragic failure” to quickly fix the ignition switches, said NHTSA had the information necessary to identify a safety defect as early as 2007, and investigators failed to explore the link between air-bag deployment and ignition switches. …

To view the full article click HERE

September 16, 2014

NHTSA Missed Chances to Uncover GM Ignition-Switch Defect

The U.S. agency that tracks vehicle safety defects didn’t recognize a pattern of air bag failures in General Motors Co. (GM) cars that would later be linked to flawed ignition switch design, congressional investigators concluded.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to act on multiple police reports dating back to 2007 that inquired about a link between faulty ignition switches, which led cars to stall, and air bags that didn’t deploy, according to a report by a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel. The agency instead relied on a “generalized trend analysis” to justify a decision not to investigate further, the report said.

To view the full article online click HERE

September 16, 2014

Congress blasts auto safety regulator

Congress delivered a stinging rebuke to the nation’s auto safety regulator on Tuesday, saying the agency failed for years to spot the defects in General Motors’ cars that killed at least 19 people and injured hundreds.

House Republicans laid out their indictment of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a 44-page report by the majority staff on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) accused the agency of being “more interested in singing ‘Kumbaya’ with the manufacturers than being a cop on the beat” as she blasted NHTSA for failing to take responsibility for its shortcomings.

But the agency remained defiant, insisting it had dealt with automakers aggressively, and it placed the blame for the recall delays squarely on GM’s shoulders.

“I want to be clear: NHTSA did not shrug,” said the agency’s top official, David Friedman, rebutting criticism during the McCaskill-led hearing of a Senate Commerce subcommittee that the agency failed to act on known safety problems. “NHTSA aggressively pursues these issues.”

Neither Democrats nor Republicans were satisfied with Friedman’s answers.

“I simply do not have the confidence that NHTSA will take more aggressive action in the future,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said at the hearing. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the agency has “neither bark nor bite” and accused it of “nodding off on safety.” McCaskill said she wanted an admission that NHTSA had fallen down on the job and said Friedman was “digging himself a hole.”

Friedman, NHTSA’s deputy administrator, eventually conceded that “there are things that we need to improve.”

Read the full article online HERE


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