WASHINGTON (Oct. 3, 2008) — After years of debate and legal battles, some of the early warning data submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by auto makers now are available to the public online.
NHTSA announced Sept. 10 it was putting the early warning reports on its safety Web site, www.safercar.gov, effective immediately.
The information that is avail- able online includes death, in- jury and property damage claims, light vehicle production data and foreign recall in- formation.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association said only auto manufacturers' early warning data are currently online, although tire makers' information probably will follow soon. The RMA fought to keep all early warning data confidential,
Consumer group Public Citizen, which sought to make all early warning information public, applauded the NHTSA move and said it would continue to seek public release of all early warning data.
The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act requires all vehicle, tire and auto parts manufacturers in the U.S. must submit to NHTSA all information that may give the agency early indication of a safety defect.
Under the agency rules promulgated in July 2003 and revised in April 2004, NHTSA gives confidential treatment to production, warranty and consumer complaint data, as well as to common green tire lists that cover basic tire constructions for basic tire models and brands.
Both the RMA and Public Citizen sued NHTSA over its interpretation of early warning data, an action that caused the agency to put the public release of any early warning data on hold until now.
On July 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld an earlier district court ruling that rejected the RMA's argument that federal law mandates the confidentiality of early warning data.
In a July 28 Federal Register notice, NHTSA gave manufacturers the opportunity to petition the agency for confidential treatment of claims and production data under Exemption 4 of FOIA.
“If NHTSA rejects any tire company's FOIA 4 requests, then tire industry data likely will be available soon,” an RMA spokesman said. “If NHTSA agrees with any tire company that disclosure of this data would cause competitive harm, then that company's data would not be disclosed.”