What is the NHTSA?

Leslie Lovre-King, Technical Assistant

Ensuring automotive safety is the prime mission of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Among others, NHTSA accomplishes this mission by establishing vehicle safety ratings, collecting and maintaining crash statistics, and implementing public safety awareness initiatives. Perhaps the most common association the motoring public has with NHTSA is through its role in the automotive recall process; however, what many people may not know is that most vehicle recalls are initiated not by NHTSA, but by individual vehicle manufacturers.

NHTSA is the relevant authority that establishes the framework for safety compliance, as well as individual recall implementation and oversight. At times, NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) may conduct its own safety audits based on a significant number of similar consumer complaints. The ODI has the authority to compel vehicle manufacturers to provide relevant data and assistance during their investigation, and autonomy to recall vehicles, or not, based on their findings. However, most often the recall process “flows” the other direction. Whether by field reports, unusually large number of complaints or warranty claims, or through internal audits, vehicle manufacturers are typically the catalyst of the recall process. Once detected and confirmed, federal regulations require manufacturers to report the nature of the defect and potential consequences thereof, potential number of vehicles involved, and details related to the proposed remedy.

Regardless of how any particular vehicle recall is initiated, NHTSA provides an online resource for consumers to determine if their specific vehicle has been recalled. By entering their vehicle’s 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) here, owners can quickly determine their vehicle’s recall status. Recently, NHTSA has expanded its access to recall information by developing a similar smart phone app, available at https://www.nhtsa.gov/safercar-app.

Leslie Lovre-King, Technical Assistant to R. Scott King, BSME, CFEI, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.

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