— Fiat Chrysler (FCA US) is treading government waters after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Chrysler may have violated the TREAD Act of 2000.
The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act was created to protect consumers, in part by requiring all manufacturers of 5,000 or more light vehicles to submit quarterly "early warning reports" to help the government track potential safety defects. One part of each report should include any incidents involving a death or injury associated with a vehicle.
NHTSA says it notified Chrysler of apparent problems in its early warning reporting data and found evidence the automaker didn't report a "significant" number of notices and claims involving deaths and injuries. The government believes the under-reporting was caused by numerous problems with the way FCA gathers and reports the data.
Calling it a "significant failure" to meet a manufacturer's safety responsibilities, NHTSA will take action against Chrysler once all the facts are known.
FCA is under the watchful eye of NHTSA after the automaker agreed to a $105 million fine for failures related to safety defects and recalls. Part of that agreement set aside $15 million the government would tap if Chrysler didn't play by the rules, and it didn't take long for the automaker to apparently admit breaking more rules.
Fiat Chrysler says because of its recent agreement with NHTSA, the automaker found problems in its reporting procedures concerning death and injury claims, in addition to other matters concerning safety. Chrysler says it notified the government of the problems and agreed to work with NHTSA to investigate the issues.
FCA says it is taking the matter "extremely seriously" and wants to make sure the problems don't occur again.
Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) released the following joint statement condemning both Chrysler and NHTSA.
“Yet again, we are told an automaker failed to submit all early warning documents related to potentially fatal defects, and once again NHTSA continues to drag its feet on issuing new requirements that would make this critical reporting immediate and mandatory. Fiat Chrysler must be held accountable for any wrongdoing, and NHTSA must issue new rules to detect fatal defects. And we need to make early warning information available to the public on a user-friendly website so we reduce the chance that yet another safety defect goes undetected.”
Markey and Blumenthal have sponsored legislation that would require auto and equipment manufacturers to automatically submit to NHTSA all documents related to fatalities, then NHTSA would be required to make those documents public.
NHTSA would also be forced to consider early warning reports when the government investigates potential safety defects and when evaluating petitions for investigations.
A few automakers know what Fiat Chrysler is experiencing right now concerning failures in its early warning reports. One recent case involved Ferrari, hit with a $3.5 million fine by NHTSA for ignoring U.S. laws concerning early warning reports.
Additionally, Honda was forced to face its own demons when the Center for Auto Safety requested that NHTSA investigate alleged problems with early warning reports.
A few months later, Honda found itself on the receiving end of a $35 million penalty for failing to report 1,729 death and injury claims for a period of 11 years. Honda was penalized another $35 million related to failures to report warranty claims and claims under customer satisfaction campaigns for a period of 11 years.