Government Shutdown Prompts NHTSA To Pause Car Defect Investigations

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By Sean Szymkowski, THE CAR CONNECTION

January 9, 2019

As the U.S. government shutdown continues to drag on, the NHTSA said Tuesday that it will not investigate car defects until federal funding is restored.

The Detroit Free Press reported Tuesday the agency does not invoke a backup plan without annual appropriations from a government budget. Employees will remain furloughed until funding is restored. President Donald Trump and Democrats remain dug in on both sides over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The NHTSA explained in a statement to the newspaper that “key functions” of the agency are suspended until funding returns. Functions funded via the Highway Trust Fund continue, but the agency’s most important tasks are on hold until further notice. That includes field crash investigations, defect investigations, and even vehicle recalls notifications from auto manufacturers.

However, if the agency becomes aware of “an imminent threat to the safety of human life that could be caused by defective or noncompliant motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment,” it will respond orderly.

Officials said the NHTSA’s locked doors are a serious threat to the safety of American motorists. Joan Claybrook, head of the NHTSA during the Carter administration, said although NHTSA investigations can take years, the government shutdown will only prolong major investigations.

Carmen Balber, executive director of California-based Consumer Watchdog, added the lack of oversight for new vehicle recalls is also a major concern. She said public safety may be at risk if the NHTSA was on the verge of requiring a new recall, or if an automaker was prepared to file one with the agency. Should a major defect arise during the NHTSA’s lapse in funding, automakers can still take it upon themselves to notify the public.

The NHTSA had 13 active investigations open that surrounded vehicle defects when the government shutdown occurred last December. They will remain suspended until the U.S. Congress and Trump administration strike a funding deal.

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