Last month, we told you that The Center for Auto Safety had accused Honda of under-reporting Takata airbag failures in its vehicles (allegedly because Honda and Takata have such a close working relationship). Around the same time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked Honda to submit a report on complaints and claims filed against the automaker over the past 11 years.
According to Auto News, that report has now been filed, and its contents are pretty shocking: it reveals that Honda failed to report some 1,729 death and injury claims between July 1, 2003 and June 30, 2014. As a result, Honda could face the $35 million maximum civil penalty that NHTSA can levy against automakers.
THE TREAD ACT
In the wake of the massive Ford/Firestone recall late in the 20th century, Congress passed the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, or TREAD Act. The law tightened standards to which automakers were held, requiring them to inform NHTSA immediately of any claims or lawsuits filed by consumers.
Back in September, Honda's higher-ups learned that the company may not have been in compliance with the TREAD Act, so it hired an outside firm to audit its monitoring and reporting practices. That audit formed the basis of the report that Honda has now filed with NHTSA.
All told, Honda says that it failed to report 1,729 incidents to NHTSA -- eight of which involved Takata airbags. (NHTSA knew of the Takata incidents because complaints had also been filed with the agency and because Honda had sent NHTSA notices to that effect, though those notices apparently failed to follow reporting procedures required by the TREAD Act.) Honda blames the failure to report all those incidents on computer errors and on a mis-reading of the TREAD Act.
Fines for violating the TREAD Act are calculated at $7,000 per incident per day that reports are delayed. As such, Honda's penalties are likely to exceed the $35 million allowable under law.
Ordinarily, we'd say that this admission of guilt is a huge black eye for Honda. Compared to many of its competitors, Honda has a fairly pristine reputation, and it's known for manufacturing safe, reliable vehicles. This could change all that.
For better or worse, though, it probably won't. Violating regulatory rules like those imposed by the TREAD Act is a serious offense, but it's a little wonkish to bother most mainstream consumers. Heck, if GM can weather Switchgate without much of an impact on sales, this should be little more than a bump in the road for Honda.
That said, let's hope the company gets its act together going forward.