Honda Motor Company will pay a record automobile safety fine of $70 million, based on its failure to report at least 1,729 injuries and deaths that were linked to defects in its vehicles going back as much as eleven years. The fine comes in the form of two $35 million fines, since $35 million is the statutory maximum allowed by law.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been in the process of a stern crackdown on vehicle safety issues for a few years, but the issue really came to a head in 2014. Not only did last year see a record number of vehicles recalled, but the NHTSA assessed vehicle manufacturers more than $126 million in civil penalties, an amount that was greater than all other fines it issued in its previous 42 years combined.
The fines assessed on Honda were for underreporting death and injury claims and certain warranty claims over an 11 year period. In addition to the fine, Honda also agreed to increase its oversight of safety practices.
The fines were assessed under a U.S law that was enacted 14 years ago, after Firestone tire problems on Ford Explorers went largely unnoticed for a number of years because there was no central accident report database. These days, automakers are legally required to report possible safety issues, including reports of injuries and deaths and warranty claims to the government to be used as part of an “Early Warning System” of sorts. The NHTSA then analyzes the information and decides whether or not further action, which can include a recall, may be necessary. By withholding that information, companies potentially put drivers nationwide at greater risk of an accident due to a safety problem.
According to Honda, the company has already taken a number of significant steps to improve its processes, to better comply with its early warning procedures. Among these measures include more comprehensive training for workers. A couple of months ago, the company performed an internal audit of its safety reporting processes, after which it cited 11 years of “inadvertent data entry or computer programming errors” for eleven years of underreporting.
When you consider how many recalls were issued last year, combined with the large number of fines the NHTSA doled out, it’s a good sign that federal regulators are taking the potentially deadly problem of auto defects more seriously. Let’s hope this is a long-term crackdown, and not just a small blip.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a car accident, and you believe a vehicle defect may have contributed to the cause of the accident, please contact the Automotive Defect Lawyers at Hill Law Firm immediately, so that we can help you protect your rights.