Olson: Auto recalls need more urgent attention
Automobile safety is a critical issue, given the high volume of cars on American roads. Most recently, flawed airbags manufactured by Takata have tragically led to 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the United States alone. These flawed airbags have resulted in the largest automobile recall in U.S. history. This historic recall has affected roughly 60 million cars in the U.S. This safety defect hit home recently when Huma Hanif, a 17-year-old girl from Richmond, lost her life in an otherwise survivable crash because of a defective airbag.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the federal agency that oversees and regulates automobile recalls. Recalls are then performed by individual automobile manufacturers. One of the key functions of NHTSA and Congress is oversight of the automobile recall process. As we know, despite strong efforts by auto manufacturers, the Takata airbag recall process sits at only a 35 percent completion rate. As the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history, NHTSA, manufacturers and many of us in Congress, have committed to seek a 100 percent recall-completion rate.
The sheer volume of airbags under recall makes it impossible to replace every airbag immediately. That's why NHTSA has prioritized recalls through a Coordinated Remedy Program by geographic zones based on the risk of injury or death to vehicle occupants. The recall zones are based on temperature and humidity, which seems to play a role in these fatal defects. Thanks to our Gulf Coast humidity, Houston is in Zone A, the top-priority zone for airbag recalls. Yet according to NHTSA, the percentage of Houston-area vehicle owners responding to the airbag recall is low. We must do better.
The recall process is complex; automobile manufacturers must track down every owner to alert them if their vehicle is under a recall. The older a vehicle is, the harder it can be to track down an owner, particularly if the car has been bought and sold multiple times. Vehicle manufacturers can voluntarily issue recalls, or NHTSA can order one. Most car recalls are termed "voluntary" manufacturer recalls, but many are triggered through NHTSA based on an investigation of consumer complaints. Federal law requires manufacturers to notify all registered owners and purchasers of the affected vehicles via registered mail.In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, we have oversight jurisdiction of NHTSA and the auto industry. We recently held an oversight hearing with NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind and auto industry and safety advocates to review auto-safety measures in place, including recalls.
In an attempt to improve recall-completion rates, Congress included a provision in the recently passed highway bill to initiate a pilot program where automobile manufacturers will work with states to notify consumers if their car has a recall at the time of vehicle registration. This is a good first step, but more can be done.
Many vehicle owners are not aware that they can check to see if their vehicle is under recall by simply visiting www.safercar.gov. Simply enter the vehicle identification number (VIN), and it identifies any open recalls that vehicle may have. Any vehicle with an open recall should be taken to the manufacturer or dealer to replace the defect as soon as possible. There is no cost to the vehicle owner to get a defect under recall fixed. It's important to check and act if your vehicle has an open recall. The life you save could be your own.
Working together, we must increase awareness of the importance of completing recalls to save lives. I will continue every effort to raise awareness and work to keep people like Huma safe in their cars.