Friday

Secret Early Warning Data Now Public

After years of secrecy that was endorsed by the current administration in Washington DC, followed by lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests that wouldn't go away, federal safety investigators finally opened up their secret Early Warning Reporting data to the public.

Public Citizen, the consumer watchdog group, should be given a hearty thanks by all consumers because without their patient persistence it would never have happened.

The data was required to be compiled by vehicle manufacturers and turned over to federal safety investigators at NHTSA (the federal agency in charge of vehicle recalls) after Congress passed the 2000 Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation Act so that federal safety investigators would finally know what the manufacturers knew --- the defects that they were getting sued over. It was largely the result of the Firestone tire and Ford Explorer rollovers fiasco that caught federal safety investigators by surprise.

Opening up online, the searchable database finally gives consumers a chance to see what known defects are out there on cars and trucks so they can avoid buying used lemons. Unfortunately NHTSA is still withholding some critical info (such as the number of consumer complaints, the number of factory field reports, and data compiled on claims involving death and injury), but it's a start.

The value of the previously secret data is obvious when one realizes that it was instrumental in 84 federal safety investigations in the first 8 months of 2008 alone and nearly 30% of those were purely the result of the data alone with no other info even considered before starting the investigations. After all, it'd be nice to know if that shiney new car in the showroom is the same model that has already been sued over for ignition switch fires in half a dozen states (something you might have found out about the 12 million Fords that were recalled in staggered stages if the data had been made public in time, and 5 million of them have still never been fixed).

The purpose of the 2000 TREAD law was to raise public awareness about safety defects and improve public oversight of factory and NHTSA decisions on defects and recalls. While manufacturers have always been required to report some data to federal safety investigators, not all of the available data was being reported and most of the key data was being kept secret by NHTSA, mostly thanks to pressure from the manufacturers and some industry-friendly politicians.

Granted NHTSA is late to the party here, but at least they showed up. Now if they'd only go the whole distance and make public all of the data they get from the factories. Why? Because we, the public through our tax dollars, own that data and we are the bosses of NHTSA. We just need to get the industry-friendly politicians out of the way so the federal safety investigators at NHTSA know it.

Meanwhile, if you've got a lemon, don't put up with the runaround from anyone. Call or email us today so we can squash your lemon for you. We know where it came from. We know how to make them take it back. After all, that's what we do. Everyday.