Tuesday, June 2, 2015 | Washington, D.C.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
As Prepared for Delivery
Chairman Burgess, Ranking Member Schakowsky, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on NHTSA’s efforts to address defective Takata air bags.
There is a more detailed explanation of our efforts in my prepared statement, but let me summarize what NHTSA has done and what we are doing. All of NHTSA’s actions are focused on achieving one main goal, the only acceptable goal: A safe air bag in every American vehicle.
On May 19, Secretary Foxx and NHTSA announced that Takata had filed four defect information reports with the agency, covering an estimated 33.8 million defective air bag inflators that Takata had shipped to automakers. Takata, as an original equipment supplier, does not know into which vehicles those inflators were installed. Prior to last week’s filing, automakers had recalled a total of 18.5 million vehicles. All of the May 19 filed defect reports involve recalls that are national in scope. Since May 19, 11 auto manufacturers have been scouring their own records to determine which vehicles are affected. To date, automakers have filed additional recalls bringing the total to an estimated 30.4 million vehicles.
During that May 19 announcement, NHTSA made clear that consumers might have to wait to determine if their vehicles were covered by the expanded recall while automakers made their own recall filings. As you know, Takata’s defect filings were a necessary first step before the automakers would initiate their own filings. The automakers’ filings contain the detailed make and model information and VIN numbers that allow individual vehicle owners to determine if they are affected by this recall. Obviously, this delay is frustrating; if there was any way to avoid that anxiety, it would have been done. In NHTSA’s public communications on this and other issues, we have followed a simple philosophy: to make information available to consumers as quickly as possible. To that end, NHTSA has established a microsite called ‘Recalls Spotlight’ at safercar.gov that includes key consumer information on recall issues of high public interest. It includes continuously updated information on the Takata recalls.
On May 19 and 20, after the DOT/NHTSA announcement, more than 1.5 million people conducted VIN lookup searches on safercar.gov, including nearly 1 million on May 20.
On May 19, Secretary Foxx also announced a Consent Order with Takata that gives NHTSA oversight into the company’s testing, requires its full cooperation with our investigation and, importantly, gives us the ability to fully evaluate the adequacy of proposed remedies. It was also announced that NHTSA has launched an administrative process, a coordinated remedy program, to prioritize and coordinate the actions of Takata and the manufacturers. NHTSA is using this authority provided under the Safety Act and by Congress in the TREAD Act for the first time. Congressman Upton, thank you for driving that vision and working with others to provide a mechanism to address the challenges and circumstances now faced in this recall.
Many Americans have asked whether we can trust remedy inflators any more than the defective inflators. NHTSA’s Consent Order with Takata, the coordinated remedy program, and NHTSA’s own testing are all essential actions designed to provide full and final answers to that critical question. NHTSA will pursue answers until the American people can have a safe air bag in every vehicle.
There continues to be great interest in establishing the root cause of these defects. While some factors appear to have a role, such as time and absolute humidity the full story is not yet known and a definitive root cause has not been identified. In my recent experience as an NTSB Board Member and veteran of many major transportation investigations, it may be that there is no single root cause or the root cause may never be known. Secretary Foxx addressed this directly on May 19, clearly stating that uncertainty cannot stop NHTSA from acting to protect safety. In areas of uncertainty, NHTSA must act, focused firmly on our safety mission.
Lastly, whatever the final numbers turn out to be, this may be the largest, most complicated consumer safety recall in our nation’s history. Fixing this problem is a monumental task. It will require tremendous effort from the auto industry. It will also require tremendous effort from NHTSA. Yet the agency must manage this enormous and necessary task with too few people and insufficient funding. The same people managing the Takata recall must also continue to analyze thousands of consumer complaints, investigate scores of other potential defects, and oversee more than 1,200 other recall campaigns that automakers and equipment manufacturers now have under way. NHTSA must accomplish this task with a defects investigation budget that, when adjusted for inflation, is actually 23 percent lower than its budget 10 years ago.
NHTSA needs your help to protect the safety of Americans on our country’s roads. The President has submitted a budget request that would fund significant improvements in NHTSA’s defect investigation efforts, providing the people and technology needed to keep Americans safe. The Administration has proposed the GROW AMERICA Act, which would provide stable, increased funding for our agency and important safety authorities to help us in our mission. As proposed in the GROW AMERICA Act, if imminent hazard authority had been available to NHTSA, this hearing would have a very different focus. At NHTSA, we address safety risks every day. I urge the members of the Subcommittee and your colleagues in Congress to help NHTSA address these safety risks and keep the traveling public safe on America’s roadways.