Automaker Recalls - A Sign Of Unsafe Cars Or Better Oversight?

Since the 1990’s, the annual number of auto recalls conducted by the National Highway Transportation Authority has doubled. From 1990-1999, the average annual auto recalls has increased was 267, as compared to 554 per year from 2001-2012.

Though the number of vehicles affected has not increased at the same rate, it has also increased. The average for 1990-1999 was approximately 11.67 million vehicles affected annually, as compared to 17.08 million vehicles from 2001-2012.

Does this mean car makers “don’t make them like they used to” and are now making unsafe cars? Not necessarily. A change in the law in 2000, plus a new set of priorities at the NHTSA may be the cause in the higher number of recalls.

The Birth of TREAD

In the past, the NHTSA only performed a vehicle recall after receiving a consumer complaint. The NHTSA would investigate and if warranted, order a recall of a defective vehicle component. Companies did not self report potential defects.

In the 1990’s, the Ford Explorer and the Firestone ATX tire were suffering a public relations nightmare. Worse, many people were injured when the tire tread and a tire would separate. This would often result in a rollover accident. It is estimated that more than 3000 people were injured and 250 fatalities occurred. Each company blamed the other for defective design or production.

In response to the Explorer/Firestone Congress enacted TREAD, the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation act. It became law in November 2000. First, it required manufacturers to compile and report records of injuries involving its products. It also required the reporting of any safety recall of a vehicle commenced in a foreign country, if the vehicle was also sold in the U.S.

Most importantly, TREAD now required manufacturers to self report potential defective products or equipment. Fines could be levied against companies for failing to report a potential safety defect. In addition, criminal prosecution could be commenced if serious injury or death was caused by an unreported safety defect. In short, the burden of notifying the NHTSA shifted from the consumer to the manufacturer.

The manufacturer reporting requirements are part of a shift towards and “early warning” emphasis of the NHTSA. With sufficient data reported earlier, it is hoped that a problem can be identified prior to a rash of crashes and subsequent injuries. It is hard to argue against a plan to correct a problem before it magnifies and causes real damage. The goal is minimizing the number of unsafe cars on the road. TREAD is merely a means of doing so.

Without a doubt, manufacturers are now reporting far more than in the past. The fines may have some effect, but few manufacturers wish to have the negative publicity that goes along with a criminal investigation.

At Goldman Babboni & Walsh we have seen first hand the devastating effects a defective product can have especially when it's part of an automobile. We want you to stay safe and aware of any new recalls and have created a product recall page to keep tabs on new or recent recalls. If you or a family member has been injured in an accident, bay a defective product or from another's negligence contact us today. Our law firm has years of experience representing those who have been injured and need financial compensation.


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