Motor Vehicle Safety:

Information on Recent Controversy Between NHTSA and Consumer Group

RCED-90-221: Published: Sep 27, 1990. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed controversies and conflicts between a private consumer group and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), focusing on: (1) NHTSA closing of 25 safety-defect investigations; (2) proposals for judicial reviews of NHTSA decisions to deny petitions to open safety-defect investigations; (3) whether the group's allegations hindered NHTSA work performance or damaged public confidence in NHTSA; and (4) the group's sale of NHTSA information.

GAO found that: (1) 50 NHTSA Office of Defect Investigations (ODI) employees responded to the consumer group's published article alleging that ODI improperly closed 25 safety-defect investigations without requiring recall; (2) ODI invited the group's director for a discussion of its investigative process and several other areas of disagreement; (3) ODI reported that it experienced difficulty in reaching decisions in the 25 cases, but closed 21 cases after deciding that the safety risks were not significant enough to warrant recall, closed 1 case after losing a federal court appeal, and closed 3 cases because they were similar to that lost case; (4) the consumer group and NHTSA differed in their definition of unreasonable safety risk; (5) the consumer group supported proposed legislation that would permit judicial review of NHTSA nonenforcement decisions; (6) there was no evidence that the consumer group's article and ODI employees' response hindered ODI work, although ODI believed that the group's activities reduced public confidence in NHTSA; (7) the group's sale of NHTSA information was not illegal; and (8) NHTSA did not treat the consumer group any differently than other groups requesting information.

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