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Audit of NHTSA finds problems not probed

The Associated Press


The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Potential safety problems in the vehicles on American roadways are not always being identified by the federal agency responsible for investigating them, a Transportation Department audit says.

The department’s inspector general found the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database of consumer complaints includes inaccurate and incomplete information.

In some cases, the staff of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation recommended an investigation after receiving what it considered serious complaints, but no investigation was opened, according to the report, requested by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in September 2000.

The audit recommends NHTSA overhaul the way it collects and evaluates complaints about potentially dangerous vehicles and establish a peer review panel to ensure high-priority cases are investigated.

In a response included in the audit, NHTSA defended its record, noting the number of vehicle recalls has increased steadily in the past decade and that very few serious defects have escaped its attention. Still, it agreed to develop new defect analysis procedures.

There are no set guidelines for when NHTSA must open an investigation. Factors include the number and seriousness of the complaints. However, the report found inconsistencies in the process, including several cases where deaths did not lead to probes.

NHTSA largely relies on vehicle manufacturers and consumer complaints to uncover safety defects. Vehicle owners can report problems to NHTSA by calling (888) 327-4236 or visiting the department website at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

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