With the Trump shutdown now three weeks old, things are starting to happen to the health and safety network that has for years protected consumers and automakers alike. For example, consumers have benefited from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and its recalls and investigations that have yielded safer autos. And, there are the Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that have prescribed the way automakers must build cars and what safety equipment is mandatory.
Employees Have Been Furloughed
And, now the NHTSA has announced that due to the shutdown it had shut down and furloughed its employees, as other shuttered agencies in the administration have done. The agency also announced that 13 significant investigations that had, until the shutdown last month, been active were no longer working. The agency shelved those probes last month when the shutdown began just before Christmas. The agency, said the Detroit Free Press, won’t activate a backup plan as long as there are no appropriations from a budget. The probes that were in process have now been red-lighted until there is a deal restoring funding to the agency and ending the shutdown.
NHTSA said in a statement to the newspaper that the agency’s halted its essential functions until there was funding. Some tasks are continuing. Those functions funded by the Highway Trust Fund will continue. However, the most important jobs are shut down until further notice. Those jobs include:
- Field crash investigations
- Defect probes
- Vehicle recall notifications
- If the NHTSA was on the verge of requiring a new recall
- If an automaker was preparing to file a recall with the agency
The agency said it would act if there is an “imminent threat to the safety of human life that could be caused by defective or n noncompliant motor vehicles” or equipment the agency will respond.
Highway Safety Advocates Are Concerned
Highway safety advocates are worried. Joan Claybrook, who headed the agency under President Jimmy Carter, said that while NHTSA investigations can take years, the shutdown will only prolong major probes. Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, emphasized her major concern is the lack of oversight new recalls. She wondered about what would happen:
Of course, automakers can still take the initiative by notifying the public themselves.
The Detroit Free Press