Federal Government’s Release of Early Warning Data on Autos Is Victory for Consumers; Some Information Still Secret

Sept. 10, 2008 

Federal Government’s Release of Early Warning Data on Autos Is Victory for Consumers; Some Information Still Secret

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen*

Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finally made its Early Warning Reporting data available on its www.SaferCar.gov Web site in response to Public Citizen’s successful lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests. Auto manufacturers have been submitting this important data on deaths, injuries, damage claims and possible defects since 2003 but NHTSA kept it secret in violation of the law.

Public Citizen was instrumental in pushing Congress in the 2000 Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation Act, or TREAD Act, to require reporting of early warning data after NHTSA failed to identify the defects in the Firestone tire / Ford Explorer rollovers.

NHTSA’s action today falls short of complying with the spirit of the law. The agency’s searchable database is hardly user friendly. Furthermore, NHTSA has decided to withhold critical information, such as the number of consumer complaints to the manufacturer, the number of field reports taken by company engineers and the number of claims involving death and injury. NHTSA has classified that information as confidential under pressure from the manufacturers.

The clear vision of the TREAD Act is to raise public awareness about safety defects and improve public oversight of manufacturer and NHTSA decisions on defects and recalls. This information is important to buyers of new and used vehicles and people concerned about potential defects in their vehicles. But NHTSA must provide the public a fuller and more comprehensive picture of the early warning information. Doing so will greatly benefit consumers and give automakers strong incentives to improve the safety of their vehicles. Public Citizen will seek to make this additional information public.

*Note: Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977-1981.

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