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Court: No more secrecy for crash data

When Congress enacted the Transportation, Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act, a landmark auto safety bill, in 2000, it envisioned a regulation that would put an end to auto industry cover-ups and failed detection of safety defects, such as the Ford/Firestone tire fiasco that resulted in hundreds of deaths. It envisioned a database that would allow consumers to see if they were experiencing similar problems, and increase accountability so federal investigations wouldn’t grow stagnant.

But that’s not exactly what Congress got.

Instead, the Department of Transportation has been keeping some information secret, such as consumer complaints to manufacturers, warranty claims, and field reports from dealers. Pretty important data for detecting potentially deadly defects.

Why, you may ask? The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) appealed a lower court ruling that the Freedom of Information Act applied to these data. Public Citizen has been promoting public disclosure of the data and has rejected the position of the RMA.

Today, we achieved a victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that information that automobile and tire manufacturers submit to the government about crashes resulting in death, injury and property damage is subject to release to the public under FOIA.

“The TREAD Act was intended to prevent needless deaths and injuries, like those in the Ford/Firestone tire tragedy, by giving regulators and the public quick access to information manufacturers have about crashes involving their products,” she Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, whose advocacy was crucial in passing the TREAD Act. “Public availability of information under FOIA is critical to achieving that goal.”

We’re submitting a FOIA request of all the early warning information gathered by the Transportation Department. For more information, read the court’s ruling and check out our Auto Safety Group’s Web page on the TREAD Act.