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NHTSA Says Fiat Chrysler Under-reported Deaths and Injuries

Oct 2, 2015

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said automaker Fiat Chrysler under-reported a "significant" number of deaths, injuries and legal claims that it was obliged to reveal to regulators.

NHTSA announced the underreporting after Fiat Chrysler said it had discovered "deficiencies" in its system for reporting faults under the Tread Act, which specifies what information carmakers must give to regulators, while investigating discrepancies in figures, according to CNBC.

Early warning reporting is vital to NHTSA's efforts to examine records of the 33,000 annual deaths on U.S. roads to identify which ones are caused by serious design flaws with vehicles.

NHTSA has stepped up its enforcement of safety rules surrounding vehicle defects following controversy over General Motors' botched recall of vehicles equipped with faulty ignition switches, CNBC reports. Fiat Chrysler has suffered a series of run-ins with the regulator, which took the unusual step of holding a public hearing in July to investigate the company's handling of a series of potentially dangerous defects.

Fiat Chrysler was formed when Italian automaker Fiat took over American company Chrysler after its 2009 government-managed bankruptcy. In 2013, the company was involved in a protracted dispute with NHTSA over whether to recall 2.7 million older Jeep models that NHTSA said were prone to exploding in rear-end collisions.

Manufacturers are required by law to report to NHTSA within five days of the end of each month any claims that their vehicles have been responsible for crashes resulting in deaths or injuries. NHTSA said it had warned Fiat Chrysler in July that it had found an apparent discrepancy in its early warning data.

"FCA [Fiat Chrysler] has informed NHTSA that in investigating that discrepancy, it has found significant under-reported notices and claims of deaths, injuries and other information required as part of the early warning reporting system," Mark Rosekind, NHTSA's administrator, said.

Preliminary information suggests that the under-reporting was the result of "a number of problems" with Fiat Chrysler's systems for gathering and reporting early warning reporting data, Rosekind said, according to CNBC. "This represents a significant failure to meet a manufacturer's safety responsibilities."

Early warning reporting data will often include incidents that, on closer examination, turn out not to reflect a vehicle defect or not to represent a systemic problem requiring a vehicle recall. But at the July hearing, NHTSA raised concerns about possible under-reporting of problems with vehicle transmissions and tire faults at high speed.

Fiat Chrysler signed a consent agreement with NHTSA over the earlier safety concerns that commits the company to closer monitoring of safety issues. The company said that the "heightened scrutiny" had led to the identification of "deficiencies" in its reporting.

Karl Brauer, an analyst for the car information web site Kelley Blue Book, said the announcement reflected the greater scrutiny automakers face over their safety records, CNBC reports. NHTSA has heightened its safety enforcement after its years-long failure to detect the problem with ignition switches in General Motors compact cars that is linked to at least 124 deaths.

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