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NHTSA Weakens Own Authority in Latest Rule; Manufacturers Can Take Their Time in Notifying Dealers of Defects

NHTSA Weakens Own Authority in Latest Rule; Manufacturers Can Take Their Time in Notifying Dealers of Defects

Statement of Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen President

Everyone who buys vehicles stands to lose as a result of a rule issued today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In its draft form as proposed by the Clinton administration, the rule, which was five years in the making, would have required manufacturers to notify dealers of safety defects five days after telling the federal government about the defects. It was a sensible proposal that would pressure manufacturers to fix safety problems so dealers could start selling the vehicles again.

But this is an administration that bends over backwards to help the auto industry. So in deference to manufacturers and dealers, NHTSA instead has decided to place no time limit within which manufacturers must tell dealers of defects. Instead, manufacturers may create their own schedule and take their time in fixing safety problems.

This is great for manufacturers, which this NHTSA rule caters to, but leaves consumers high and dry. It also allows dealers to continue selling defective vehicles without informing the buyer.

The fact that it took NHTSA five years to issue this rule is telling; it would appear that the agency was waiting for the firestorm over Ford/Firestone defects to abate before taking an action that would knowingly and willfully put consumers in harm’s way.

This is the same agency that recently told Congress it can be trusted to regulate the auto industry without a timetable or mandate from lawmakers. We hope that the conferees currently considering the auto safety provisions of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act(SAFETEA) are mindful of NHTSA’s failure to protect consumers.

It is truly appalling that in not making consumers and dealers aware of defects as quickly as possible, NHTSA has weakened its own authority to protect the public. With this action, NHTSA is protecting auto manufacturers’ profits and endangering consumers.

Note: Joan Claybrook was NHTSA administrator from 1977-1981.