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By Jim Adler July 24, 2015

Americans injured in auto accidents due to defective vehicles may have heard about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA. But what is the NHTSA?

Highway Safety Act

First, you should know that the NHTSA was established in 1970 by the Highway Safety Act as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Since then the NHTSA’s mission has been to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce vehicle-related crashes.

To reduce injuries, deaths and financial losses due to vehicle crashes, the NHTSA sets and enforces safety performance standards for vehicles and their equipment. It also gives grants to local and state governments to boost their own highway safety programs.

The NHTSA also researches driver behavior and traffic safety to facilitate safety improvements, and it probes vehicle safety defects while setting and enforcing fuel economy standards. It also promotes use of safety belts and child safety seats and airbags, while also fighting drunk driving, enforcing anti-theft regulations and informing consumers about vehicle safety.

NHTSA Reforms Urged

But for all the good that it does, the NHTSA also bears criticism, and the general public has long called for reforms to the organization and its procedures.

Citing General Motors’ delayed ignition recall tied to 111 fatalities and GM’s delayed recall of nearly 34 million vehicles for Takata airbag defects, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota in particular has taken the stance that the NHTSA must make changes.

Thune is head of the Senate Commerce Committee which oversees the NHTSA and sets its funding. The agency claims to be understaffed and says its budget for finding auto defects worthy of auto recalls has dropped by 23% over 10 years, after adjusting for inflation. The agency claims it needs 380 more persons in its defects office, six times the current count.

NHTSA Recalls

Nonetheless, the NHTSA does provide a clearinghouse for auto recalls and one basis for victims to launch injury lawsuits when a defective vehicle injures them. If the vehicle was recalled due to a defect which then caused an accident, the manufacturer bears liability and victims can claim financial recovery.

The public can access an NHTSA database on auto recalls and defects. It also helps buyers of used cars determine if recalls were made while the vehicle was possessed by a previous owner. Otherwise, used car buyers may not know that they’re driving a recalled vehicle.

The NHTSA also has strong powers when it comes to auto recalls. Unlike the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which lacks authority to issue defective drug recalls and only can request them of the manufacturer, the NHTSA has legal authority to issue vehicle safety standards and can require manufacturers to recall vehicles which don’t meet federal safety standards or have safety-related defects.

Thus, the NHTSA has been a big part of many auto recalls over the years in which millions of vehicles were involved — and that’s where you first may have heard its name.

For recall information, consumers can call the NHTSA’s toll-free Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236. That line also provides other safety information and accepts safety complaints.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney

If you were injured in an auto accident due to an auto defect, notify the NHTSA — and contact a car accident attorney with this law firm. You may be entitled to economic compensation for your losses.

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