Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Defect-Testing Procedures Were Reasonable--Public Announcements of Potential Safety Defects Could Be Improved

RCED-85-28: Published: Nov 9, 1984. Publicly Released: Dec 10, 1984.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined: (1) the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) policies and procedures for initiating and conducting investigations into alleged defects in motor vehicles; (2) the NHTSA investigation of an alleged defect in vehicles produced by a certain manufacturer; and (3) the release to the news media by NHTSA of certain information pertaining to the investigation.

GAO found that most defect investigations are initiated by NHTSA on the basis of consumer complaints that reflect, in the opinion of the NHTSA staff, the potential for substantial risk to the public. NHTSA conducts defect tests in conjunction with some investigations to identify the causes or consequences of defects. GAO noted that: (1) NHTSA ensures the safety of those conducting defect tests; (2) the procedures established by NHTSA for initiating investigations and conducting defect tests are reasonable; and (3) during fiscal years 1974 through 1983, domestic and foreign manufacturers recalled 57.7 million vehicles to correct safety-related defects. GAO also found that NHTSA followed its written guidelines in investigating whether a safety-related defect involving rear axle separation existed in cars produced by a certain manufacturer and is still in the process of rendering a final determination regarding the investigation. In addition, GAO found that NHTSA: (1) released to the news media film of a defect test that was conducted under that investigation without clarifying the conditions under which the test was conducted; and (2) did not notify the manufacturer of the allegedly defective vehicles before releasing the film.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: See accomplishment report A-RCED-85-21.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should instruct the Administrator, NHTSA, to issue guidelines requiring NHTSA to accompany any film of defect tests released to the media with a clear explanation of any modification to the vehicle or replacement equipment and the conditions under which the tests were conducted. The guidelines should also require that NHTSA not release test film or other information gathered to support its initial determination to the media or the public before providing it to the manufacturer.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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