WASHINGTON — When Mark Rosekind became the nation's top vehicle safety regulator in 2014, massive recalls of General Motors ignition switches and Takata airbags underscored the difficulty of notifying millions of consumers about dangerous defects and getting their vehicles fixed quickly.
Rosekind, who left his job running the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at the end of the Obama administration, made improving the recall system and maximizing repairs a top priority. In 2015, he hosted a workshop in Washington with a cross section of stakeholders that examined how to increase recall completion rates.
But today, the process for identifying vehicle owners, informing them about a problem and completing the necessary repairs remains disjointed at best, with few reforms to improve recall efficiency and better protect the public when the next vehicle safety crisis hits.
"There are a wide variety of ways to notify people of recalls, and NHTSA has been notoriously negligent in testing various recall notification mechanisms," said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs at the Consumer Federation of America.
NHTSA's public affairs office did not make anyone available to discuss how the agency is addressing shortcomings in the recall process.
Automakers vary in theresources and strategies they dedicate to notify owners and complete repairs, according to federal authorities and safety advocates.
"Several affected vehicle manufacturers are more quickly meeting or even exceeding completion milestones set by NHTSA," while others lag behind, said John Buretta, an independent monitor overseeing Takata remedy orders on NHTSA's behalf, in a Nov. 17 progress report.
American Honda, the automaker most exposed to the Takata problem, has set itself apart in trying unique approaches to overcome institutional, political, technological, financial and social barriers to closing outstanding recalls. The company is working to foster better cooperation among regulators, states and the auto industry while exhausting multiple avenues to locate owners, ensure it has the necessary replacement parts in stock and fix faulty airbag inflators that can rupture with deadly force.