According to a report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 30,000 people were killed in 2009 as a result of car crashes. Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of debilitating injuries in the United States and are the number one cause of death for people under the age of 34. While the number of traffic-related deaths has been declining over the years, the NHTSA is committed to ensuring that all vehicles on the road adhere to federal safety standards to reduce the number of lives lost on the road.
Enacted in 1960, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act allows the NHTSA to issue safety standards for cars and to require manufacturers to issue recalls, at no cost to consumers, for vehicles that have safety defects. While most manufacturers issue safety recalls on their own, the NHTSA can take legal action to force a manufacturer to issue a recall. Since 1960, 390 million vehicles, 46 million tires, 66 million pieces of motor vehicle equipment and 42 million child safety seats have been recalled due to safety defects.
According to the United States Code for Motor Vehicle Safety, vehicle safety is defined as “the performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in a way that protects the public against unreasonable risks of accidents occurring because of the design, construction, or performance of a motor vehicle, and against unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident, and includes nonoperational safety of a motor vehicle.”
An example of a defect is a steering component that breaks, causing a person to lose control of the vehicle. Fuel systems that leak, especially after a crash, is another example of a safety defect. Other examples include airbags that deploy when they shouldn’t, accelerators that stick, or wiring that can cause fires or malfunctioning headlights. However, issues such as malfunctioning radios or air conditioners are not considered safety-related defects.
The NHTSA must follow four steps to determine if a vehicle recall is warranted. First, the agency must review the number of complaints it has received regarding an issue. Second, it must see if there are any petitions calling for an investigation. Third, the NHTSA will conduct an investigation into the mate, and finally the agency will conduct and manage a safety recall. If a recall is warranted, a manufacturer has three options: repair the defect, replace the part or parts in questions, or issue a refund. Manufacturers must notify registered owners of the safety recall by first-class mail. They are required to explain the problem and where and how the consumer can get the defect fixed free of charge.
Once a recall has been initiated, consumers injured as a result of a safety defect can pursue legal action to recover compensation as a result of their injuries.