Markey, Blumenthal: Drivers at Risk from Regional Vehicle Recall System, Non-compliance with Early Warning System

Senators quiz NHTSA on Takata’s deadly exploding airbags, wrongheaded regional recalls, public reporting system non-compliance 

WASHINGTON (October 15, 2014) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today expressed strong concern to America’s auto safety regulators that a regional vehicle recall system that sometimes only applies to certain parts of the country is risking the safety of drivers everywhere. The Senators use the example of the exploding airbags made by Takata and installed in many manufacturers’ vehicles that have been injuring and killing drivers and passengers since 2004 as an example of this patchwork recall system that risks the lives of American families. 

Senators Markey and Blumenthal also said that the Early Warning Reporting (EWR) system employed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may not be fully complied with by auto manufacturers. The Senators revealed that Honda had apparently failed to comply with the EWR system by not submitting complete quarterly reports about accidents that may be due to a safety defect, with one example of a publically-known 2009 death of an Oklahoma teenager where an airbag exploded having gone unreported in the EWR system, according to an analysis done by the Center for Auto Safety and shared with Senator Markey’s staff.

The two Senators today wrote David Friedman, the Acting Administrator for NHTSA, to ask him about the efficacy of the regional recall regime and compliance with the EWR system. That letter can be found HERE.

“Regional recalls that treat cars and trucks like they never leave their home makes no sense as a policy to protect American families,” writes Senators Markey and Blumenthal. “We believe that this practice risks the safety of those whose cars may not be registered in the states in which the recalls occur. This is because even if the vehicles are not actually registered in the particular states subject to the regional recall, they may nevertheless be driven there.”

About the potential noncompliance with the EWR system and Honda’s failure to report incidents, they write, “We are concerned that NHTSA has not made real efforts to determine whether automakers have complied with this requirement to alert the public to potentially deadly defects.”

The Takata airbags that have exploded in Honda vehicles have been the subject of various recalls and service campaigns, but the application of those recalls has been haphazard because of the largely regional nature of the recalls and voluntary nature of the service campaigns.

For example, on June 11, 2014, Takata told NHTSA that it would conduct a service campaign to repair airbags in “Puerto Rico, Florida, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands, based on the high levels of absolute humidity in those areas.”  As the two Senators note in their letter, there is no indication how levels of humidity are documented, and why other areas of the country that also have high humidity were not included as part of the service campaign. The Senators cite several other examples of these geographic recalls that could leave consumers exposed to danger.

In July, Senators Markey and Blumenthal wrote to NHTSA expressing their concerns that NHTSA was not enforcing compliance with the EWR system. In a previously-unreleased response from, the agency says that “it is not possible to verify the accuracy of each piece of information submitted in early warning reporting” and that NHTSA enforces compliance “as appropriate”. In their response, NHTSA noted only two examples of such enforcement efforts – one in 2007, against motorcycle manufacturer Piaggio Group Americas, Inc., and a request for information sent to Ferrari that followed a letter sent by the two Senators pointing out that Ferrari had never submitted a single EWR report.

In March, following the recall of more than a million GM vehicles after dozens of deaths and injuries, Senators Markey and Blumenthal introduced legislation to ensure auto manufacturers provide more information about incidents involving fatalities to NHTSA. The legislation, the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act, would require NHTSA make the information it receives from auto manufacturers publicly available in a searchable, user-friendly format so that consumers and independent safety experts can evaluate potential safety defects themselves.

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