Unsafe vehicles can be very dangerous and pose serious risks for everyone on the road. While auto manufacturers are required to report any safety issues or injuries and deaths caused by car accidents or vehicle defects, many times these reports are not done and when they are, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration takes too long to investigate.
The NHTSA reports vehicle defects, injuries and fatalities caused by unsafe vehicles. In addition to the official safety investigations that are reported by the NHTSA and posted on their website, they also do informal investigations to try and keep unsafe vehicles off U.S. roads.
Despite the NHTSA's best intentions, many of these investigations take too long and the public is not informed about problems and safety issues that can contribute to car accidents and fatal injuries. When safety issues are not investigated or reported to the public, it can have a serious impact on car buyers and owners because they may not know that their vehicle may be unsafe and pose a threat on the road.
Formal public investigations by the NHTSA are seen as much better for the public's safety because at least the public is aware of the investigation compared to the informal investigations. The NHTSA said that during formal public investigations, information regarding testing and injuries and fatalities are available to the public, including safety advocacy groups.
Reports show that the NHTSA may delay or not have a formal investigation of a vehicle or manufacturer because it may not lead to a recall and it could create public worry or distrust of an automaker without any evidence that their vehicle is unsafe.
The NHTSA said that they usually do a screening test to decide if they should start an investigation or not. They said that a public investigation is only started if they believe a vehicle has a defect. However, the screening tests they do can potentially last for months, which could end up delaying an investigation and possible recall.
Safety advocacy groups want the NHTSA to improve their screening and investigation process to make sure the public is notified when a potential vehicle defect is reported. However, the NHTSA said they don't need to improve their process and they don't have the budget to do so even if it was necessary.
Source: USA Today, "Auto safety concerns often stay secret," Jayne O'Donnell, Feb. 25, 2013