There's been a lot written recently about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's responsiveness to information provided by State Farm on the issue of Toyota vehicle safety--much of it factually incorrect or incomplete.
Today’s Detroit News has it right, however.
The News reports that NHTSA officials were already looking into complaints of unintended acceleration in certain Toyota vehicles in December of 2003 before State Farm supplied any information on that topic to the safety agency in February of 2004.
While insurance data is a useful source of supplemental information in identifying auto defect trends, the primary sources are consumer complaints, early warning reporting from manufacturers, technical service bulletins provided by manufacturers to car dealers and foreign recalls on vehicles that are similar to vehicles sold in the U.S.
State Farm’s information was useful, but agency officials were already aware of the trend in unintended acceleration complaints and were taking steps to open an investigation.
What's missing from much of the other coverage I’ve seen is the fact that, over the years, NHTSA officials actually asked State Farm to provide that information so they could incorporate it into their ongoing vehicle defect investigations. As they do information from all sources.
For example, in January of 2006, NHTSA asked State Farm to provide a list of claims alleging unintended acceleration for all vehicle models and model years that occurred between 2000 and 2005.
In April of 2009, NHTSA also asked State Farm for a list of all claims alleging unintended acceleration for all vehicle models and model years between 2006 and 2009.
The point is that our safety officials have been looking at this issue from all angles for quite some time.
So the idea that NHTSA is in the business of ignoring information--valuable or otherwise--from automobile insurers, safety organizations, or consumers is just plain wrong.
I want people to know, as I have said over and over, that safety is our number one priority at DOT, and in none of our agencies is that better demonstrated than our auto safety agency.