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Shutdown puts brakes on NHTSA safety investigations

The ongoing government shutdown has impacted the public and users of government services in many ways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency responsible for investigating defects in vehicles, suspended this duty during the shutdown. This imperils safety and may increase the risks of car accidents caused by defective vehicles.

Last week, the NHTSA said that its investigators will not conduct safety defect investigations of cars, trucks and SUVs. They will not perform other safety functions such as field crash investigations, review consumer complaints and provide new vehicle and equipment recalls.

The NHTSA said that it will respond if it becomes aware of an immediate threat to the safety of life from defective or noncompliant vehicles or equipment. Also, federal law requires manufacturers to issue recalls if a vehicle is defective or does not comply with federal standards.

Safety advocates are not assured. Suspending defect investigations and review of manufacturer and consumer complaints delays the prompt notification of possible dangers. This suspension also adds unwarranted time to investigations which often take years and delay the repair of hazardous equipment.

NHTSA investigations are vital. There are more than 37,000 traffic fatalities and millions of emergency room visits each year. Major investigations have included the General Motors ignition switch which was held responsible for fatalities and injuries around the world.

Last month, the agency's investigation of the exploding Takata airbags was still open. NHTSA was actively conducting 13 defect investigations in December including upper steering separations in 2008-2013 Toyota Highlanders, power steering failures in 2010 Ford Fusions and sudden sunroof breakage in 2011-2013 Kia Sorentos. An investigation of violent shaking in the steering columns of Jeeps after hitting a bump was apparently placed on hold.

Despite these delays, Victims of an accident caused by defective equipment, and their families, may seek compensation in a personal injury lawsuit. an attorney can help gather evidence and pursue these legal rights.

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