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NHTSA Considers Making Automaker Fines More Public

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is reconsidering how it will publicize fines assessed against automakers for failing to recall vehicles after safety issues have been discovered, amid concerns that the problems are not being brought to the attention of the media. 

The agency announced that it will review the policies concerning fines following criticism over the NHTSA’s decision not to publish information about a recent fine imposed on Ford Motor Co. for failing to recall more than 400,000 cars since 2010.

Ford eventually recalled the SUV’s suspected of sticky throttles, however the NHTSA indicates that the recall was not done promptly.

The hefty fine of $17.35 million was imposed in June, but no statement was issued by the NHTSA. News of the fine failed to gain media attention until August, when the Wall Street Journal reported on it.

NHTSA History of Publicized Fines

The NHTSA has been inconsistent in it’s announcement of other major fines assessed to other automakers in recent years, with several other large fines being publicized, including fines levied against Toyota Motor Corp., Lotus Cars and BMW AG.

A $32.425 million fine was assessed against Toyota after the Department of Transportation determined the automaker withheld reports about a problem with uncontrolled acceleration, failing to comply with NHTSA safety standards and reporting procedures.

While reports of Toyota acceleration problems began to surface as early as 2007, the automaker only recalled about 50,000 vehicles. However, following new reports involving serious and often fatal auto accidents that occurred when drivers were unable to stop their vehicles, Toyota ultimately recalled nearly 4 million vehicles in 2009. That recall was further expanded in 2010 to include an additional 1 million vehicles.

Toyota received a second fine after further investigation by NHTSA officials found Toyota was aware of a problem with sticking steering rods. Those concerns dated back to 2004 in vehicles in Japan, however Toyota asserted they were unaware of any similar problems in vehicles in the U.S.

In 2005, Toyota revealed the defect was present in several models sold in the U.S., eventually resulting in the recall of more than one million vehicles.

Numerous recalls and large fines have plagued U.S. automakers in recent years, on many occasions the NHTSA issued press statements revealing the concerns and fines. A statement was issued by the NHTSA in July announcing $3 million in fines against BMW AG for failing to report recalls in a timely fashion.

However not all fines are publicized. An $82,000 fine issued against Lotus for failing to comply with recall procedures was not publicized after the fine was assessed in May.

The NHTSA says they did not issue a release concerning the latest Ford Motor Co. fines because consumers were contacted about the recall last year. According to the NHTSA, Ford did not ask the agency to keep the news of the fine secret and they will decide whether to make formal announcements of fines in the future.

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