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Auto safety agency seeks more resources for defective products

The fallout from the faulty ignition-switches that remained in General Motors vehicles for years after they were found to be defective continues. Congress is turning its attention to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and asking how it failed to deal with the problem and others that have plagued the auto industry in recent years.

As David Friedman, the NHTSA's deputy administrator found himself on the hot seat at a Senate hearing this month, one thing that he and the legislators agreed on was that the agency needs help if it is to properly oversee and regulate automakers. This means more people, more power and more money. The NHTSA is asking for a budget increase of $32 million to $851 million next year.

The limits on the NHTSA to fine automakers were of particular concern to both Friedman and the senators who grilled him during the recent hearing. Friedman says the NHTSA needs "more authority to fine the car companies so that they understand the heavy price that they are going to pay if they fail to report these things." Sen. Claire McCaskill has introduced a bill that would increase NHTSA's maximum safety violations fine, which is currently $35 million. It would also make auto executives potentially criminally liable if it is found that they delayed a recall.

According to NHTSA, the additional money it is seeking would also be used to increase its workforce and improve its technology. The current staff, says Friedman, has not been able to keep up with the large number of recalls, not to mention customer complaints. NHTSA is seeking an increase in staff that would still put it at fewer than 650 employees. It also needs an official leader. Friedman has been the senior person at the agency since the last administrator left in January, but no one has been named to the top spot.

With so many cars on the road that feature ever-increasingly intricate technology, it seems only appropriate that the agency that acts as a government watchdog for the auto industry and highway safety needs more resources to accomplish its mission. Meanwhile, Florida consumers can and should take legal action against automakers for defective products. Just as financial accountability by a government agency can be a strong incentive for automakers to put safety first, so can such accountability by individual consumers.

Source: autoblog.com, "Weekly Recap: NHTSA searches for answers after Congressional grilling" Greg Migliore, Sep. 20, 2014

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