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Vehicle safety defect mount on way to record year for recalls

Is a record year for the auto industry. But not in a good way. This year is likely to mark the greatest number of recalled vehicles every, potentially topping out at more than 50 million vehicles. Why?

A number of factors are at work. The General Motors defective ignition switch was finally recalled after years of mounting evidence that something was grievously wrong. Toyota was fined $1.2 billion for its handling of the recall of 10 million vehicles over the last few years. And the defective Takata airbag issue, which Honda knew about 10 years ago, finally broke with a tidal wave of recalls from numerous carmakers.

And there is the underwhelming performance of the underfunded and understaffed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has not help matters by its failure to aggressively investigate worrying car accidents that appeared to involve safety defects in many vehicles.

For consumers, it can lead to a mishmash of poorly organized information. As former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook noted, because the car companies "dumb down" the recalls, they often understate the danger posed by the defect, and this leads consumers to be confused or to simply ignore the notice.

This also means millions of used vehicles are sold with the defect unrepaired, and what is worse, there is no means to force the repairs before the vehicle can be sold.

If the NHTSA had the resources to aggressively examine these issues and then ordered the recall, rather than waiting for the automakers to issue "voluntary" recalls, these defects could be stopped early, before there are millions of vehicles on the roads and millions of motorists are placed at risk.

The Washington Post, "It's the worst year ever for auto recalls. Why are so many dangerous cars still on the road?" Drew Harwell, October 22, 2014

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