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Vehicle Safety Watch List Intro

The Safety Institute’s Quarterly Vehicle Safety Watch List -Tracking Top 15 Potential Vehicle Defects to Watch

The Safety Institute’s Vehicle Safety Watch List Analytics and NHTSA Enforcement Monitoring Program is sponsored by Ken and Beth Melton in memory of Brooke Melton, who died in a 2010 crash caused by the sudden failure of the ignition in her 2005 Chevy Cobalt. Brooke Melton, 29, died when she skidded into another vehicle after the ignition module of her 2005 Cobalt slipped into the accessory position. Documents and evidence developed in the Melton case found that GM knew about the ignition switch problem as early as 2001. Ken and Beth Melton, of Cobb County, Georgia, decided to provide ongoing support to the significant research and analysis that the Watch List provides, in hope of preventing future tragedies.

This is the most current of our quarterly reports monitoring potential vehicle defect trends and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recall and enforcement activities. These reports will help the public recognize the early signs of emerging, potential problems in the U.S. fleet. The reports also help to identify continuing potential failures to effectively fix issues that are already known.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has many sources of information to aid its identification of potential motor safety defects. One of the most important is NHTSA’s Early Warning Reporting (EWR) system. This data collection system was established in the wake of the Ford Explorer/Firestone tire safety scandal in 2000. One purpose of the EWR system is to help NHTSA and the public recognize potential motor vehicle defects before they become actual public health tragedies.  Unfortunately, the EWR system did not prevent the Toyota Unintended Acceleration scandal of 2010 or the GM Ignition Switch scandal of 2014. But it could have.

Using publicly available data such as consumer complaints made to NHTSA, manufacturer reported Early Warning Reports on deaths and injuries, and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), The Safety Institute relies on peer-reviewed analytic methodologies to identify potential motor vehicle safety defects that merit additional engineering and statistical review.  With support from Quality Control Systems Corp., this is the third release of a quarterly Watch List of potential vehicle problems and an annual report identifying potential emerging defect trends by issue, manufacturer and vehicle. The list is also useful to assess the efficacy of the agency’s enforcement activities.

The Safety Institute’s Analytics and Monitoring Program reports provide evidence-based data for directing investigatory resources. They also represent an important step toward identifying potentially emerging vehicle defects. With limited time and resources it is important to prioritize NHTSA’s limited resources.

Prioritized rankings of potential motor vehicle defects based on the EWR data and peer-reviewed, scientific methodology (see R. A. Whitfield and Alice K. Whitfield, “Improving Surveillance for Injuries Associated with Potential Motor Vehicle Safety Defects.” Injury Prevention, April 2004, 10:88-92) did identify combinations of specific components in particular vehicle fleets that might well have led to the early detection of the Toyota and GM defects had NHTSA devoted adequate investigative resources to these problems in time.  

Rather than simply await the next failure by NHTSA, the public can use these Vehicle Safety Watch List rankings to assess for themselves the urgency of specific, potential safety problems and the adequacy of NHTSA’s response. Of course, there is no certainty that any fleet and component combination identified as a candidate for further engineering and statistical review by this method will have a safety related defect. And many vehicle/component combinations that do not rank highly on this list will, in fact, prove to have safety related defects. Even so, based on our past experience, these Vehicle Safety Watch Lists can be valuable tools to the identification of emerging vehicle safety issues as well as to monitor NHTSA’s investigative decisions and enforcement actions.

These resources are now publicly accessible to anyone who wants to understand:

  • Potential safety problems
  • How the NHTSA’s investigative choices correlate to safety problems reported by automakers and consumers
  • How well NHTSA is enforcing its recall requirements

The Safety Institute does not claim the chart is a list of defects, but rather these are areas that potentially need more investigation and to prioritize limited resources.

November 7, 2016: Press ReleaseVehicle Safety Watch List
August 24, 2016: Press ReleaseVehicle Safety Watch List
May 5, 2016: Press ReleaseVehicle Safety Watch List
March 16, 2016: Press ReleaseVehicle Safety Watch List
January 17, 2016: Press ReleaseVehicle Safety Watch List
September 7, 2015: Press ReleaseVehicle Safety Watch List
February 6, 2015: Press ReleaseVehicle Safety Watch List
October 2, 2014: Press ReleaseVehicle Safety Watch List
June 24, 2014: Press ReleaseVehicle Safety Watch List