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Secret NHTSA Investigations May Endanger Motorists

March 17, 2013

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a federal agency that regulates motor vehicle safety and issues recalls for vehicles that have defects, is apparently engaging in an increasing number of preliminary investigations where information is not made available to the public.

An Alabama man was involved in a fatal collision last year when his 2001 Ford Explorer’s tire separated from the tread, causing him to be ejected when the vehicle rolled over into the center median according to media reports. This crash was one of 375 similar fatal collisions involving older model Mountaineers and Explorers during a recent eight year period. This is quadruple the number of rollover accidents involving Ford Explorers with Firestone tires that were the subject of widespread publicity and many lawsuits in 2000.

Although the accidents and consumer complaints were reported to the NHTSA by the manufacturer during the preliminary investigation of this tread separation issue, the information was only made available to the public during this preliminary “secret” phase of the investigation through the Freedom of Information Act. Sometimes the information is not made public despite a Freedom of Information Act inquiry at the request of the manufacturer submitted to the federal safety agency.

Significant recent early investigations by the agency that were not immediately disclosed to the public include:

  • Evenflo Child Car Seats: These child safety restraint systems were investigated for nearly a year by the NHTSA and Evenflo after concerns about how the child restraint systems performed in collisions. The secret inquiry ultimately led to a million Discovery child seats being recalled by the NHTSA.
  • Hyundai SUVs: Although no investigations or complaints were made public, Hyundai recalled some of its Santa Fe and Veracruz vehicles because airbags did not deploy during collisions. Information later obtained revealed that Hyundai provided information to the NHTSA about 16 consumer complaints and 8,000 warranty claims related to the airbag system defects.
  • Chevrolet Volt: The NHTSA conducted a secret investigation for six (6) months after a Chevy Volt caught fire before initiating a formal investigation where information was made available to the public.

Critics of these secret early investigations argue that consumer complaint and adverse incident reports should be made available to the public. There are currently no clear procedures or regulations that control when the NHTSA moves from an informal investigation phase to launching a public investigation. These secret non-public investigations potentially put other motorists at risk and deprive plaintiffs in personal injury, product liability and wrongful death lawsuits of potentially valuable information regarding similar incidents involving vehicle system failures.

If you or a family member has suffered serious injury or you have lost a loved one, our defective motor vehicle accident attorneys at Montlick and Associates are available to provide effective legal representation to clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you.

Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Auto Accidents

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