New NHTSA System Focuses on Safety Defects

Posted on April 17, 2003 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now keeping closer tabs on vehicle manufacturers and modifiers through a rigid schedule of reporting requirements called the Early Warning Reporting System. The program, which went into effect April 1, is designed to more quickly identify vehicle safety defects. It grew out of federal legislation passed in response to the Ford-Firestone safety uproar.

NHTSA officials have said they are prepared to enforce these requirements with fines of up to $5,000 a day, with a maximum penalty of $15 million.

Coachbuilders must register with NHTSA and they must periodically supply a report that lists all deaths that the company has been informed of involving their vehicles. Coachbuilders must also supply all written or electronic communication they have had with more than one dealer distributor, owner, lessor/lessee or other manufacturer if the communication deals with:
• The repair, replacement or modification of a vehicle.
• The manner in which the vehicle is to be maintained or operated.
• A directive to cease selling or distributing a vehicle.

This report is due at the end of each month. Marketing materials, customer satisfaction surveys and owner’s manuals do not have to be reported.

The few coachbuilders manufacturing more than 500 vehicles a year face additional requirements: they must report not only deaths, but also injuries or property damage claims. Consumer complaints, warranty claims, and any field data of defects involving the vehicle must also be sent to NHTSA. These larger manufacturers are also required to supply warranty claims and field reports for the past 12 quarters and production numbers for all models (discontinued or not) for the past 10 years.

“It is indeed a sad commentary that a government agency, at a considerable cost to everyone, deems it necessary to police the entire transportation industry, when most responsible companies take safety very seriously and, in fact, stake their company’s reputation on it without anyone having to look over their shoulders,” said Mike Hill, vice president of operations for Krystal Enterprises. Krystal officials said they were unaware of the new requirements and were just beginning to assess their impact.

Several vehicle manufacturing groups, including the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, the National Truck Equipment Association, and the Special Equipment Market Association, have been attempting to alter or gain relief from the costs.

According to industry consultant Richard H. Klein, the trailer and RV groups have appealed to NHTSA to raise the threshold for some of the reporting requirements. They argue that some of the strict requirements should be limited to Ford, General Motors and other manufacturers.
Contact Klein at klein@warwick.net for more information.

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