It was three months ago that General Motors published a scathing report on its handling on the ignition switch problem. Now its National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's turn.
This morning, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a 44 page report on NHTSA's handling of GM's ignition switch problem. The report was based on the review of millions of pages of records and interviews with key NHTSA officials and found that a series of critical mistakes and “ample information” already on hand meant that the agency should have found the problem sooner.
“Both GM and NHTSA had ample information necessary to identify this defect. It was a failure to process, share and utilize that information within each entity that enabled this safety defect to persist,” the report states.
“NHTSA also lacked the focus and rigor expected of a federal safety regulator. The agency’s repeated failure to identify, let alone explore, the potential defect theory related to the ignition switch — even after it was spelled out in a report the agency commissioned — is inexcusable. This was compounded by NHTSA staff’s lack of knowledge and awareness regarding the evolution of vehicle safety systems they regulate."
A key example of this was found by Yahoo's Motoramic. Back in 2006, an accident in Wisconsin that involved a Chevrolet Cobalt claimed the lives of two boys. Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Keith Young who was investigating the crash looked into the data from vehicle and was able to pull up a dealer bulletin about certain GM models having ignitions that could be bumped into the accessory position. In a report filled in February 2007, Young said the ignition was switched into the 'accessory position', thus leading the Cobalt's airbags not to deploy. The report showed that NHTSA officials had read the report, but didn't do anything there after.
This report also says NHTSA officials didn't fully comprehend how airbags and that investigators believed that the air bag systems were designed not to go off under certain off-road conditions.
"Agency staff were blinded by outdated perceptions about how air bag systems operated. Even as manufacturers began installing advanced air bag systems in response to new federal standards, NHTSA investigators lacked a fundamental understanding of how these new air bag systems functioned. For a decade, ODI investigators evaluated air bag concerns based on their knowledge of first generation air bag systems," the report continued. "They assumed that advanced air bag systems, like their predecessors, operated from an independent energy reserve and were completely unaware of the relationship between power mode and air bag systems. Only after the GM recall, in February 2014, did ODI investigators realize the chasm in their understanding of air bag technology," the report says.
The report also takes mentions how NHTSA employees would defect and blame others, eerily similar to GM's report.
“NHTSA likewise had critical information in its possession which pointed to this defect. Whether the information was not understood, overlooked or lost in organizational stove-pipes, the agency’s failure to followup on this information contributed to NHTSA’s inability to identify this defect. The agency would not tolerate similar conduct from a manufacturer. The NHTSA Shrug: the agency does not hold itself to the same standard of accountability as those it regulates. There is a tendency to deflect blame and point the finger at others rather than accept responsibility and learn from its own failures. It is no different than the “GM salute.”
What happens next for NHTSA is up in the air at moment. Today, federal auto regulators will testify to the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee to discuss their role in the GM ignition switch recall and what can be done to improve NHTSA's role.