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1. Screening:

Under the screening process, available information – including but not limited to Vehicle Owner’s Questionnaires (submitted through the Vehicle Safety Hotline, Internet or U.S. Mail), e-mail, additional letters, anonymous reports, and manufacturer-submitted information – is reviewed by the Defects Assessment Division (DAD). DAD also reviews incoming service bulletins and other documents prepared by the manufacturers to identify foreign safety recalls, customer satisfaction campaigns, consumer advisories, and similar campaigns that should have been conducted as safety recalls in the United States. If DAD determines the available information indicates a safety-related trend or that a catastrophic failure is developing, this information is presented to a panel of ODI staff for a recommendation on whether to open a safety defect investigation.

2. Petition Analyses:

Any person may submit a petition requesting NHTSA to open an investigation into an alleged safety defect. After conducting a technical analysis of such a petition, ODI informs the petitioner whether it has been granted or denied. If the petition is granted, a defect investigation is opened. If the petition is denied, the reasons for the denial are published in the Federal Register. Similarly, a person may submit a petition requesting NHTSA to hold a hearing on whether a manufacturer has reasonably met its obligation to notify and/or remedy a safety defect or noncompliance with a Federal motor vehicle safety standard. If the petition is granted, a hearing is held to assess the matter and decide what corrective action should be taken. If the petition is denied, the reasons for the denial are published in the Federal Register.

3. Investigations:

Investigations are conducted in two phases: the Preliminary Evaluation and the Engineering Analysis.

Preliminary Evaluation (PE)

Most PEs are opened on the basis of information submitted by DAD, but they may be opened on the basis of other information as well. During the PE phase, ODI obtains information from the manufacturer (including, but not limited to, data on complaints, crashes, injuries, warranty claims, modifications, and part sales) and determines whether further analysis is warranted. At this stage, the manufacturer has an opportunity to present its views regarding the alleged defect. PEs are generally resolved within four months from the date they are opened. They are either closed on the basis that further investigation is not warranted, or because the manufacturer has decided to conduct a recall. In the event that ODI believes further analysis is warranted, the PE is upgraded to an Engineering Analysis.

Engineering Analysis (EA)

During an EA, ODI conducts a more detailed and complete analysis of the character and scope of the alleged defect. The EA builds on information collected during the PE and supplements it with appropriate inspections, tests, surveys, and additional information obtained from the manufacturer and suppliers. ODI attempts to resolve all EAs within one year from the date they are opened, but some complex investigations require more time. At the conclusion of the EA, the investigation may be closed if the manufacturer has notified the agency that it will conduct a safety recall or if the agency has not identified a safety-related defect. However, if ODI believes that the data developed indicates that a safety-related defect exists, the ODI investigator prepares a briefing to be presented to a panel of experts from throughout the agency for peer review. If the agency panel concurs with ODI’s recommendation that a recall should be conducted, ODI notifies the manufacturer of the panel’s concurrence and may, if appropriate, provide a final opportunity for the manufacturer to present new analysis or data. ODI then sends a Recall Request Letter to the manufacturer.

4. Recall Management:

The Recall Management Division (RMD) maintains the administrative records for all safety recalls, and monitors these recalls to ensure that the scope is appropriate, and that the recall completion rate and remedy are adequate. NHTSA’s monitoring of recall performance may lead to the opening of a recall investigation if the facts appear to indicate a problem with the recall adequacy or execution. A recall investigation can result in expanding the scope of previously announced recalls, or in the adjustment of existing recall remedies.

What happens when NHTSA determines a safety defect exists?

If the manufacturer declines to conduct a recall in response to the Recall Request Letter, the Associate Administrator for Enforcement may issue an Initial Decision that a safety-related defect exists. An Initial Decision will be followed by a Public Meeting, at which the manufacturer and interested members of the public can present information and arguments on the issue. Prior to the Public Meeting, the manufacturer is sent copies of all information on which the Government’s decision is based. A copy of the file is also made available for public inspection in the agency’s Technical Information Services (TIS) Office.

During the meeting itself, the manufacturer may attempt to refute the Government’s evidence in addition to presenting new information. Public interest groups, other manufacturers, trade associations, and consumers may also present information that will be considered and evaluated by NHTSA’s Administrator in making a final decision on whether a safety-related defect exists. The entire investigative record is then presented to NHTSA’s Administrator, who may issue a Final Decision that a safety defect exists and order the manufacturer to conduct a recall.