GAO Recommends Improving Online Recall Assistance

Most consumers in the focus group website usability tests found the auto recall areas of NHTSA's website easy to use, but some experienced difficulties when asked to complete auto recall-related tasks.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report Dec. 4 listing steps that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should take to improve the online vehicle recall areas of its website so consumers could make better use of those resources. The 94 consumers in 12 focus groups that GAO conducted said they used the information to decide whether to repair their vehicles, and they "overwhelmingly cited safety risk and convenience as the two most influential factors they considered," according to the federal agency.

However, while most consumers said they prefer to get recall notification by at least one electronic means, such as e-mail or text, in addition to mail, only seven of the 94 consumers reported receiving electronic notifications. GAO noted that, in response to a mandate in September 2016, NHTSA issued a proposed rule to require manufacturers to notify consumers about auto recalls by electronic means, in addition to mail.

The report contains two recommendations:

  • that NHTSA's administratordetermine a completion date for the agency's website consolidation effort
  • that, while the agency continues its website consolidation effort, the administrator should take interim steps to improve the usability of the auto recall areas of NHTSA.gov by addressing the website usability difficulties identified in the report

Most consumers in the focus group website usability tests found the auto recall areas of NHTSA's website easy to use, but some experienced difficulties when asked to complete auto recall-related tasks. "For example, when consumers attempted to search for recalls affecting their specific vehicles, some found the search results confusing, leading them to question the accuracy of the results. Similarly, some consumers were hampered in searching for recalls by their vehicles' year, make, and model because the website did not always display model options using plain language. GAO found that the auto recall areas of NHTSA.gov do not always reflect federal and industry key website usability practices, and that an independent evaluation conducted by website usability professionals at GAO's request identified similar issues," GAO reported.

It reported NHTSA is in the process of consolidating its websites and plans to conduct a website usability study of NHTSA.gov with consumers after the consolidation is complete, but it hasn't determined a completion date for the consolidation.

The total number of vehicles affected by U.S. safety defect recalls increased sharply in recent years, from nearly 13 million in 2011 to more than 51 million in 2016, according to GAO.

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