— The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the agency tasked with watching out for the safety of vehicle occupants, but a federal audit shows NHTSA walked away from its responsibilities concerning the Takata airbag recalls.
Tens of millions of Takata airbags have been recalled by numerous automakers as the exploding airbag inflators have killed at least 15 people in the U.S. and caused more than 220 injuries. Through the Takata ordeal that started in 2008, NHTSA was accused of failing to closely monitor automakers and companies for safety dangers and defects.
Then came December 2015 when Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act that required the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to audit NHTSA's recall processes.
The purpose of the audit was to investigate how automakers handle all aspects of recalls and NHTSA's response to those recalls.
According to the OIG, NHTSA didn't exactly get a passing grade, a bad sign for an agency created for the sole purpose of protecting the public.
The Inspector General found multiple deficiencies with how NHTSA has been handling recalls, including problems with a lack of documentation and management controls. Those two issues alone have caused failures to ensure recall remedies are reported fully and in a timely manner.
NHTSA has also failed to keep track of recall completion rates once automakers issued safety recalls. In addition, the agency doesn't have the tools to verify that employees assess the risk to safety when deciding whether to use legal tools that would improve recall completion rates.
The OIG audit further determined NHTSA had procedures in place concerning low Takata recall completion rates but failed to follow its own procedures.
NHTSA has allegedly improved because of its Takata airbag recall failures, but the OIG made six recommendations for NHTSA to improve how it monitors recalls.
NHTSA fully agreed with three of the recommendations but only partially agreed with the other three. Safety regulators say they have learned much from the Takata recalls, but some of the issues are unique to Takata and therefore won't apply to other types of safety recalls.
The results of the audit follows previous bad news from an OIG audit from 2015 when it was revealed NHTSA was ignoring at least 90 percent of all consumer complaints. The audit also found serious problems with safety defect investigations and how employees were never trained to determine if an investigation should be opened.
The 2015 audit results found an agency that allowed vehicle manufacturers to play by their own rules while safety regulators depended on an "honor system" for automakers to self-regulate their actions.