Michael Pecht,Arun Ramakrishnan, Jeffrey Fazio,
and Carl E. Nash
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
Since 1970, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin- istration (NHTSA) has been responsible for setting and monitoring traffic and safety standards for all motor vehicles on U.S. roads. Authorized by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, the agency can investigate and recall any vehicle that contains a safety-related defect or is in violation of a federal motor vehicle safety standard.
This paper describes the role of the NHTSA in assessing automotive electronics reliability and safety. We discuss the definition of .safety defect,. and how it has been applied. In a number of defect investigations, automakers had initially led the NHTSA to believe that their vehicles were safe and complied with safety standards, although they contained potentially fatal defects. As a result, NHTSA had difficulty in taking effective action against rollovers, stalling problems, and fire hazards in some of the nation.s popular vehicles, even though evidence pointed to a safety defect. This article then describes a juridical process that may improve road safety. Examples are given as to how regulations could be manipulated to stymie federal investigations, followed by an explanation of how the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation Act, passed in 2000, could facilitate more effective investigations. Finally, we discuss the economics of defect recalls, and provide some recommendations.
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