Should NHTSA Be Able To Stop Sales Of Flawed Cars On Its Own?

March 31, 2015

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration oversees a long, thorough process for recalling flawed vehicles. It collects complaints, launches investigations, and formally requests recalls from automakers.

One thing NHTSA can't do, though, is halt sales of poorly or improperly manufactured vehicles -- at least, not on its own. According to Auto News, though, that could soon change. 

MODEST PROPOSALS

It's budget time in Washington, D.C., and at the top of U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx's to-do list has been the completion of a $478 billion transportation bill -- one that includes a hefty chunk of change for infrastructure improvements and increased funding for NHTSA, among other things.  

But also included in Foxx's proposal are tools to expand and enhance NHTSA's regulatory authority. For example:

  • NHTSA would be given the ability to stop sales of vehicles when it determines that there is "an imminent risk of injury or death". And unlike current policy, the agency wouldn't have to coordinate such actions with automakers: it could issue stop-sales on its own.
  • The maximum fine that NHTSA can levy would be raised from $35 million to $300 million (which could come in handy).
  • NHTSA would explore the creation of a nationwide system to alert car owners of outstanding recalls when they register their vehicles. (We discussed this proposal at length a couple of weeks ago.) 
  • Companies that rent vehicles and sell used cars would be required to fix recalled vehicles before selling or renting them. (Thought that was already a law? Think again.)

Under normal circumstances, we'd say that Foxx's proposals have slim-to-no chance of approval. With the GOP in charge of Congress, and with many GOP leaders dubious of federal regulation, an expansion of NHTSA's oversight capabilities seems like a losing proposition.

However, 2014 made it abundantly clear that NHTSA is hamstrung by its lack of authority. Maybe Foxx and his friends on the Hill can make the case that now's the time to act. Stay tuned. 

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