Automaker Fiat Chrysler under-reported a “significant” number of deaths, injuries and legal claims that it was obliged to reveal to regulators, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The federal regulator announced the under-reporting after Fiat Chrysler said it had discovered “deficiencies” in its system for reporting defects under the Tread Act, a law that specifies the information car makers must submit to regulators, CNBC reports.
Early warning reporting by automakers is vital to NHTSA. The agency examines records of the 33,000 deaths on U.S. roads annually in an effort to which ones are caused by vehicle defects. NHTSA stepped up its enforcement of safety rules for vehicle defects following the controversy over the massive General Motors recall of vehicles equipped with faulty ignition switches, CNBC reports. Fiat Chrysler has had a series of run-ins with the NHTSA and the agency took the unusual step of holding a public hearing in July to investigate Fiat Chrysler handling of a series of potentially dangerous defects.
After a 2009 government-managed bankruptcy, Chrysler was taken over by Italian automaker Fiat and the new company was formed. In 2013, the company was embroiled 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.
Under the Tread Act, within five days of the end of a month, manufacturers are required to report to NHTSA any claims that their vehicles have been responsible for crashes resulting in deaths or serious injuries. NHTSA said it had warned Fiat Chrysler in July of 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,” NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said. According to Rosekind, the under-reporting is the result of “a number of problems” with Fiat Chrysler’s systems for gathering and reporting early warning data, CNBC reports. “This represents a significant failure to meet a manufacturer’s safety responsibilities.”
Early warning reporting data will often include incidents that, when examined more closely, turn out not to reflect a vehicle defect or systemic problem that requires a vehicle call. But at the July hearing, NHTSA questioned the company about possible under-reporting of problems with vehicle transmissions and tire faults at high speed.
Under a consent agreement with NHTSA involving the earlier safety concerns, Fiat Chrysler has committed itself 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 Kelley Blue Book, a car information service, said the announcement reflected the increased scrutiny of automakers’ their safety records, according to CNBC. NHTSA has heightened its safety enforcement after the decade-long failure to detect the problem with ignition switches in General Motors compact cars. That defect was responsible for at least 124 deaths and numerous injuries. Last year GM recalled 2.6 million cars potentially equipped with the defective switches.