WASHINGTON—Auto makers and suppliers can expect tougher data requests and more frequent audits from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency said this week as it outlined a plan to prevent safety lapses similar to General Motors' ignition switch crisis of 2014.
In the report, “NHTSA's Path Forward,” the agency said it plans to meet with manufacturers early in each investigation to put them “on notice,” even when the agency lacks the evidence to order a recall. By creating a paper trail, NHTSA hopes to prod manufacturers to disclose data that they could later be accused of having withheld, either during a government investigation or in court.
NHTSA also said it will spell out clearer rules for “early warning reports,” which auto makers submit when they learn of severe crashes involving their cars. When approached by NHTSA, manufacturers will now need to share an opinion about the cause of a crash, and, when sued, they now will need to provide documents to NHTSA showing how the case ended, including whether a legal settlement was struck.
And because attorneys sometimes sniff out a defect before regulators do, the agency “is strengthening its relationship with the plaintiff's bar as a way of learning about additional death and injury incidents that may be of interest,” the report says.
“Our obligation to save lives and prevent injuries must include sober self-examination, and when we find weaknesses, we have to fix them,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement.