Cars were recalled at a record pace in 2014. While the effectiveness and efficiency of the recall system was called into question, it is clear that some mechanism is necessary for getting unsafe vehicles off the road. The newly installed head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mark Rosekind, has promised changes to the recall system. He is also warning consumers and auto manufacturers that more recalls are to be expected going forward, not less. The NHTSA may have more work to do to combat recall fatigue, where consumers stop paying attention to recalls because they are so frequent.
More recalls could simply be the byproduct of the NHTSA moving more quickly to act on reports of safety defects. Much of the criticism of the NHTSA leading up to his appointment involved the unreasonable delay between early reports of dangerous defects and automakers actually recalling vehicles. GM waited more than a decade after the first reports of ignition switch defects surfaced before it finally recalled the vehicles. Honda was recently fined $70 million for withholding information about car accidents involving its vehicles. Automakers drag their feet and, so far, have gotten away with it. If the NHTSA moves more quickly, it will likely force recalls for issues that have been under investigation for some time.
The auto industry has a powerful lobby. In the past, it has appeared that the NHTSA did not have the authority, the resources or the stomach to hold car makers accountable for safety problems. It may be too much to expect a new head administrator to make any difference, but consumer safety would surely benefit from a stronger voice in the conversation.
Source: Detroit Free Press, "NHTSA's Rosekind: Expect more not fewer recalls," by Greg Gardner, 12 January 2015