While General Motors CEO Mary Barra fired 15 employees as a result of ignition switch failures that killed at least 13 people, a recent report by the Detroit News reveals the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has neither disciplined nor reprimanded a single employee for the way the agency handled its review of the deadly safety defect.
According to the Detroit News, the NHTSA was made aware of the problem in late 2007 after a senior official in the agency “notified superiors that at least four fatal crashes had been linked to air bag failures.” Despite asking for a formal review of the issue, the agency chose to decline investigating it – this during a time the NHTSA was known for opening investigations into vehicle safety issues in which no individuals were killed.
Both Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and NHTSA Administrator David Friedman have voiced their support for the agency’s decision, noting that the data the NHTSA collected in 2007 (and again in 2010) didn’t support a reason to investigate the now-recalled General Motors vehicles. “I don’t agree that NHTSA just took the answers for granted. They were looking for data to suggest that there was a problem,” Foxx said.
As the Detroit News notes, Friedman recently expressed in an interview that automakers must follow the law in order to allow the NHTSA to properly exert its authority: “We have clear authority under the law to push automakers to do a recall — what we really need here is for the industry to establish a new normal when it comes to recalls … We shouldn’t need to push automakers to put safety first.”
General Motors seems to be taking steps to establish itself as the new normal, as the automaker’s recent barrage of recalls appear to show a shift in the company’s recall policy.