The General Motors recall scandal was one of the biggest news stories of 2014. Although the Takata air bag recall has since taken the media spotlight, the fallout from the GM scandal is still being felt nationwide. So far, 109 car accident fatalities have been linked to GM’s defective ignition switches and its decade-long delay in issuing a recall.
There is little debate about the fact that General Motors bears the vast majority of blame for this tragedy. But many believe that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also failed in its duties to the American People. Recently, the Transportation Department released two internal reports echoing that sentiment.
The reports and top NHTSA officials note that more could have been done to further investigate evidence suggesting that the vehicles were dangerous. The NHTSA also needs to change the way that information is sought, collected and analyzed.
For most of its history, the agency has largely relied on automakers to police themselves and provide important information to the NHTSA when needed. But numerous recall scandals have proven that the honor system does not work. Car manufacturers are simply too invested in protecting their own profits.
Mark Rosekind, the new NHTSA administrator, noted that “the GM experience changed the culture here. What that means is challenge the information you’re getting, and challenge the assumptions you are pursuing.”
It’s important to point out that the NHTSA’s funding, resources and authority have limited its ability to effectively regulate the auto industry. In the wake of the GM scandal, regulators are asking Congress to facilitate improvements in all three areas.
When it comes to ensuring the safety of consumer products, few products are as important to regulate as automobiles. Until or unless substantive changes are made and sustained, we can expect further recall scandals in the future.