The news world has been teeming with reports about this record-setting penalty against Honda from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Major news networks, newspapers, magazines and news wire services described this major consumer endangerment issue in early January of 2015.
The AP reported January 9, 2015, that this is the largest civil penalty levied against an automaker for not reporting to safety regulators almost 1,720 death and injury complaints by consumers involving their vehicles. Major news networks, including ABC, NBC, and CBS, carried this breaking news along with short clips of interviews with industry people who cited various reasons for the action.
Failure to Report
On the NBC Nightly News report of January 8, it was reported that Honda publicly admitted responsibility for the issue because they under-reported claims about these defects for 11 years, from 2003 until 2014. The failure to report, especially over such a long period of time, resulted in danger to vehicle drivers and passengers and the occurrence of a high number of fatalities and injury accidents.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head spokesman, Mark Rosekind, says that NHTSA levied such an extremely high penalty to Honda to send a message to the auto industry that these manufacturers have a clear responsibility to report such potential problems. Reports need to be made in a timely manner, as soon as it is evident that some product defect is causing accidental injuries and deaths, so that users are warned and can take action to avoid similar problems.
Not the Only Case
According to a January 9th report by the Los Angeles Times, in a similar situation, Toyota paid a $1.2 Billion fine levied by the Department of Justice (DOJ) after admitting they misled consumers and regulators about certain safety defects. Likewise, General Motors is under scrutiny for defective ignition switches that cause airbag failures. GM admits they knew about this problem for a decade, yet did nothing; meanwhile 42 deaths are connected to this issue.
NHTSA is also under the microscope, with the government claiming they were not giving these problems proper oversight and attention. On the CBS Evening News, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was interviewed about the problems of consumer endangerment by lack of information about problems. He hinted that there was some time lag in reporting dangerous issues, but that now the NHTSA has stepped up with a more aggressive stance to help protect consumers.
NHTSA Regulations Protect the Public
The $70 Million fine against Honda by the NHTSA will get attention from the legal community as well. Lawyers have been reluctant to take cases against major auto manufacturers like General Motors due to low state caps on awards, tort reform and extremely high costs of litigation in these cases. Some consumers also have accepted settlements with privacy terms, so the general public is not aware of many deaths and injury accidents attributed to vehicle defects.
Hope for Future Responsibility
Publicity about vehicle defects and accidental deaths or injuries due to those defects is one of the best ways to protect the public. Attention, responsibility and action on the part of manufacturers must be fast and without reluctance, if the public is to get the protection it deserves. This record-setting fine against Honda may at last make the lasting impression needed to get that type of response.