California Car Owners Deserve Honesty from Volkswagen
This week it was revealed that Volkswagen failed to report at least one death and three injuries involving it’s vehicles to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA maintains a database of vehicle defects that lead to death or injury and automakers are required by law to report all claims. Legal complaints against an auto manufacturer must be filed with the NHTSA within 30 days of the end of the quarter in which the automaker was notified. The company must notify the NHTSA even if there’s been a settlement, or the company disputes the complaint or a ruling has been made in the automaker’s favor. This database was designed to track auto defects and support the product recall efforts which are so important for car owners.
As an Alameda personal injury attorney, I have seen the benefits of the safety reporting requirements and as a result automobile safety improvements first hand. When I was a kid, cars did not have seat belts or head rests let alone airbags and sensors. A rear end accident had catastrophic consequences; broken bones, paralysis and even death. There is still room for improvement however. Seat belts have been required by law since 1968. Research shows that the lap/shoulder seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent. Fortunately putting on a seat belt when getting in a vehicle is almost second nature now.
I always look at the safety record of a vehicle before purchase. Kelley Blue Book, Consumer Reports, U.S. National Transportation Highway Safety Administration are all good sites for consumers to consult prior to buying a vehicle.
Over an eight year period, the lawsuits filed against Volkswagen concerning these accidents were not reported to the NHTSA as required by law.
These reporting laws have also been instrumental in helping alert consumers of harmful auto defects so they can make good decisions when purchasing a vehicle. Rebecca Lindland, senior director of commercial insights for Kelley Blue Book said, ” If you under report on safety, then you’re talking about actually taking people’s lives in your hands. ”
I am not picking on Volkswagen. I have always liked the company. While I was in law school I had a Volkswagen Rabbit. It was a fun little car. It was easy to drive, even easier to park! But safety always outweighs convenience.
People complain about lawyers and excessive lawsuits but the reality is that this type of litigation has advanced automobile safety in our country. Seat belts, better-construction, airbags, crash tests, sensors…the list of auto enhancements since the invention of the automobile is long. And I dare say that many of those enhancements were the outcome of laws created from auto defect lawsuits.
In light of this finding, Volkswagen will coordinate a third-party audit on safety compliance with NHTSA. They will investigate their in-house process of reporting lawsuits to the regulatory database as part of that audit.
This is not the first bad news about Volkswagen in recent days. In September it was revealed that the German automaker had installed software in some 800,000 of their diesel-fueled vehicles and thereby bypassed the emissions controls when smog tested. The software would register lower nitrogen oxide emissions when tested but allowed higher emissions during normal driving, which improved, engine performance. Unfortunately it creates more air pollution and is against the law. CEO Martin Winterkorn has accepted responsibility and resigned. The company is facing criminal probes in the U.S., Europe, Japan and China.
Maybe new management will improve the current policies for this company.