Audit Finds NHTSA Investigators May Lack Training To Spot Defective Cars

Eight months after a Department of Transportation audit criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to hold automakers responsible for defects, a second audit is raising additional concerns about NHTSA’s ability to sniff out problem automobiles. 
The latest audit [PDF] from the DOT’s Office of Inspector General acknowledges that NHTSA has made strides over the last five years, but also points out that some necessary programs have not yet been implemented.

This includes a training program for investigators that would help them better spot safety risks in automobiles.

NHTSA investigators “may not be sufficiently trained to identify and investigate potential vehicle defects, or ensure that vehicle manufacturers take prompt and effective action to remediate issues,” the report found.

ODI also hasn’t conducted any post-training audits, despite committing to these audits in response to the recommendation, including evaluations of employee knowledge of course objectives, evaluations of training materials, and annual reviews of ODI’s training.

Additionally, the inspector general established that ODI investigators fail to properly document evidence such as consumer complaints and meetings with automakers that could better protect consumers for defects.

“Although ODI implemented the new procedure, it has not enforced the procedure or established mechanisms to promote compliance,” the report found. “For example, ODI has not required supervisors to review the case management system to verify that pre-investigative work is documented as required.”

As a result of these failures, the inspector general found roughly 42% issue evaluations filed in 2013 contained no document ion of pre-investigative work.

“ODI’s inconsistent application of this new procedure could result in relevant data being omitted from NHTSA’s preliminary evaluations of potential vehicle safety issues,” the report states.

A spokesperson for NHTSA tells the Wall Street Journal that the agency is working to implement the inspector general’s recommendations from 2011 and last year’s audit by June 30.

Those initiatives include a training program and better assessing compliance with internal policies

The agency has come under fire several times in recent years for inadequate policies and process when it comes to identifying defects.

In fact, both the 2011 audit and the June 2014 audit were instigated following major safety issues; unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles and General Motors’ ignition switch defect, respectively.

[via The Wall Street Journal]