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Statistical Change Skews Auto Recall Figures

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A recent article in USA Today discussed a small but important change made by federal regulators who are in charge of issuing and keeping track of crucial auto safety recalls. The data reveals that a change in how they count recalls has cut into their supposed triumph of having a smaller number of investigations lead to a bigger number of recalls.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that last year was a record setting year in terms of the number of recalls issued per safety investigation conducted by the NHTSA. The Center for Auto Safety, however, showed that last year would not have been a record had it been counted using previous standards. The same problems were seen in other supposedly record-breaking years.

For instance, in 2008, the NHTSA’s investigations led to a record 191 recalls. The Center for Auto Safety says that of those, 126 recalls were due to wheelchair lifts made by a single company. In 2012, 19 of the 134 recalls were for sunroofs manufactured by only one company.

In the last few years the NHTSA changed the way it counts recalls to include each separate defect notification as a separate recall, despite coming from the same company and concerning the same product. Some consumer safety advocates say the new practice is a way for the regulatory body to fudge its numbers, a simple accounting trick that does little to actually improve safety.

In the industry the new approach is known as “recall inflation” and many see it as helping the NHTSA look like they are conducting more investigations that lead to recalls than they actually are. For the sake of consumers across the country who depend on regulatory bodies to ensure the safety of products we use and consumer every day, I sincerely hope that’s not the case.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.