DOT Inspector General Questions NHTSA's Management of Airbag Recalls

It makes six recommendations to improve NHTSA's processes for monitoring recall remedies and scope and overseeing safety recall implementation. NHTSA concurred in full with three of the recommendations and partially concurred with the others.

The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation on July 18 released its audit of NHTSA's management of light passenger vehicle recalls due to potentially defective airbags. The audit faults NHTSA's process for monitoring the recalls, which have affected 37 million vehicles, as of January 2018. The process lacks documentation and management controls and doesn't ensure remedies are reported completely and in a timely manner, the auditors concluded, and NHTSA also does not verify recall completion rates, although it has the authority to do so, and it lacks sufficient management controls to ensure staff assess risk when deciding whether to use oversight tools to improve recall completion rates.

The audit was mandated by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

Auto manufacturers have issued dozens of recalls for vehicles equipped with defective airbags manufactured by Takata. To date, 15 fatalities and more than 220 injuries in the United States alone have been linked to the defective airbags, according to the report.

It makes six recommendations to improve NHTSA's processes for monitoring recall remedies and scope and overseeing safety recall implementation. NHTSA concurred in full with three of the recommendations and partially concurred with the others. The ones with which NHTSA partially concurred concern:

  • developing and implementing a risk-based process to monitor manufacturers' reporting of recalls' remedy, scope, and risk information
  • developing and implementing a risk-based process, with specific timelines, that provides guidance to the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation staff on identifying recalls with missing communications, and taking appropriate action to resolve the deficiencies and document the outcomes in an official recordkeeping system
  • documenting lessons learned from the Takata recalls and a plan for applying them to help manufacturers improve completion rates of other recalls

Recommendations with which NHTSA fully concurred concern:

  • including a supervisory review process for monitoring recall remedies, scope, and risk reporting and oversight of recall implementation
  • developing a training curriculum on staff responsibilities for updated recall monitoring and oversight processes, and provide the training to Office of Defects Investigation and also Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance staff
  • updating the recall reporting portal and issuing written guidance to identify all recall scope, risk, and completion rate information that regulations require manufacturers to submit

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