Motor Vehicle Safety:

Enforcement of Federal Standards Can Be Enhanced

RCED-87-2: Published: Dec 15, 1986. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 1986.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Transportation's (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) oversight and management procedures for: (1) selecting safety standards, motor vehicles, and equipment for compliance testing; (2) investigating vehicles and equipment that fail compliance tests; and (3) assessing civil penalties against manufacturers or distributors that do not comply with federal standards.

GAO found that: (1) NHTSA has not tested some standards for long periods and has never tested others; (2) the deterrent value of NHTSA testing activities is not as strong as it could be because its selection process does not ensure testing of each standard over a period of time; (3) NHTSA cannot ensure that manufacturers comply with all of its standards because it has excluded some standards from testing; (4) resolving cases can take from less than 1 year to as much as 7 years because NHTSA has not established a system of management controls over the processing of investigation and civil penalty cases; and (5) NHTSA has not established guidelines concerning penalty assessments.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NHTSA does not believe that decisions on which cases OVSC forwards to the Chief Counsel lend themselves to a set of rigid guidelines and is unlikely to take any action.

    Recommendation: To improve the processing efficiency of all investigations and resulting civil penalty actions and recalls, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, NHTSA, to develop criteria and procedures for OVSC to follow in determining which noncompliance investigations should be forwarded to the Office of Chief Counsel for penalty assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Written general procedures and milestones for processing investigation cases and monitoring case progress within OVSC were issued on October 30, 1987.

    Recommendation: To improve the processing efficiency of all investigations and resulting civil penalty actions and recalls, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, NHTSA, to develop milestones and procedures for processing noncompliance investigation cases and monitor the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (OVSC) progress against them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NHTSA has concluded that, at the present time, it is not possible to provide accident data for the compliance program formulation process.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that safety standards and vehicles selected for compliance testing have the greatest impact on public safety, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, NHTSA, to determine the cost to collect additional standard-related accident data and safety benefits to be derived from such data. If obtaining the standard-related data is cost-beneficial, NHTSA should collect and use the data to help select motor vehicles for testing.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NHTSA intends to make every effort to ensure that all of the 39 testable standards are selected for compliance testing over a period of time, expected to be 5 years. Four of the 13 excluded standards, identified in the report, were included in the fiscal year 1987 compliance testing program.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that safety standards and vehicles selected for compliance testing have the greatest impact on public safety, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, NHTSA, to ensure that all 39 testable safety standards are selected for testing over time with the intent of improving compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NHTSA does not believe that the processing of civil penalty cases lends itself to a set of rigid guidelines and is not likely to take any action.

    Recommendation: To improve the processing efficiency of all investigations and resulting civil penalty actions and recalls, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, NHTSA, to develop milestones and procedures for processing civil penalty cases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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