NHTSA Opens Up Ford/Firestone Records

September 12, 2008
A database created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) following the horrific Firestone/Explorer recalls, and subsequent lawsuits and trials, has now been made public.

In addition to the 270 deaths caused by the infamous tread separation incidents, the database reveals thousands of deaths, injuries, and property claims made to automobile manufacturers and tire companies.

After a six-year fight, federal safety regulators decided to go live with the database in the hopes of helping prevent future defects, manufacturing sloppiness, and inattention to safety. Safety advocates (and presumably Ralph Nader) were thrilled at the decision, but still complained that the database doesn't disclose enough information and isn't consumer-friendly enough. Explaining their complaints, Detroit News explains that NHTSA is withholding certain information from the database, "including warranty claims, consumer complaints to the manufacturer and the last six digits of the vehicle's VIN number" in order to protect individual privacy rights.

Advocates like Joan Claybrook of the Public Citizen feel that NHTSA is keeping some information from the public due to pressure from auto manufacturers. Rae Tyson, speaking for the NHTSA (whose desire to keep some records private was upheld by a Federal appeals court in July), claimed that the issue has been argued ad infinitum in the courts. He further stated that the database, which relies on data transferred from automaker to the agency, has served its purpose, getting information to NHTSA investigators before problems occur. As a result of this information flow, 25 investigations have been initiated due to warning signs that have turned up in analysis of the automakers' data.

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