The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has continued its aggressive stance toward the two biggest offenders in terms of auto defects in 2014. General Motors brought negative attention to itself and to the NHTSA with regard to an ignition switch defect that plagued certain models of its vehicles for more than a decade. Takata drew headlines for its defective airbags and for its lack of cooperation in the NHTSA investigation into the problem. Both cases made the NHTSA look bad and led to Senate Committee hearings into the safety organization.

The NHTSA this week extended the oversight requirements it placed on GM in the wake of the ignition switch defect investigation. It also took steps to force a faster recall process for vehicles with the Takata airbags inside. In the case of GM, the oversight was put in place as part of the agreement between the NHTSA and the auto company last year.

More interesting was the move directed toward Takata. The NHTSA had never, in its history, used the power it is now invoking. Until now, the legal authority to speed up and coordinate a recall was untested. The legal process could become more common if the NHTSA finds it effective. It has proven surprisingly difficult to determine which vehicles contained the potentially defective Takata airbags, a difficulty exacerbated by the reluctant participation of the parts manufacturer itself.

The NHTSA has asked Congress for greater authority to punish auto companies that do not comply with safety regulations. Some have asserted that the maximum penalties the NHTSA can assess are not sufficient to alter the behavior of auto giants like GM. It will be interesting to see how the auto industry responds to the NHTSA asserting a power it has never used before.

Source: Consumerist, “NHTSA Once Again Flexes Regulatory Muscle Over GM, Manufacturers Who Used Takata,” by Ashlee Kieler, 22 May 2015

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