Among the federally operated agencies and organizations closed during the ongoing government shutdown, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been forced to set aside a number of outstanding vehicle safety investigations, potentially postponing recalls to correct harmful defects that could lead to accidents.
333 of the NHTSA’s 597 employees have been furloughed as a result of the government shutdown, including the entire vehicle defects team, and several meetings with auto manufacturers have been canceled, preventing the agency from reading owner submitted complaints, conducting new safety investigations, continuing current investigations, process recalls submitted by car makers, or developing new safety regulations. Without these efforts, defective vehicle components cannot be inspected, and repairs cannot be implemented, leaving drivers at risk.
Last week, a Tesla Model S electric vehicle caught fire after an accident in the state of Washington, marking the first instance of fire in a Tesla-built vehicle, but the NHTSA was unable to send investigators to the scene. An ongoing look into serious fire dangers threatening rear-fuel-tank-mounted Jeep SUVs has also been put on hold, along with dozens of other safety investigations, prolonging the threat of harmful accidents to owners of millions of vehicle owners. A Tennessee bus crash that killed eight passengers earlier this week also went uninvestigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
In an attempt to restore funding to both the NHTSA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Representative Lee Terry, R-Nebraska, who also chairs the House Energy Commerce panel which oversees the NHTSA, has introduced two new bills similar to those already passed by the House for the Federal Aviation Administration. “It is time to reboot America and turn on those portions of government necessary four our security and protection,” says Terry.
Also closed by the government shutdown is the Environmental Protection Agency, which is now forced to delay approving new vehicle mileage ratings. Without approved mileage ratings, auto makers may be unable to sell new models. Until government operations resume, there is little the EPA can do, as there appear to be no contingency plans in place. “There’s nobody we can ask,” says John Cabaniss, director of environment and energy for Global Automakers, a trade group representing several foreign car makers, who says the EPA shutdown will hurt small-volume manufacturers.
Former NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook has called the House’s funding of the FAA “outrageous” and “essentially ignoring the safety risks of millions of motorists on the road every day.” Until Terry’s bill is passed, or the government shutdown is concluded however, the NHTSA will maintain its limited functionality, extending the potential dangers facing drivers of vehicles with defective components that could fail, even in normal driving conditions.
As a vehicle owner, keeping your vehicle well maintained is the best defense against potential breakdowns and malfunctions. By performing regularly scheduled maintenance, checking tire pressures, and always changing essential oils and fluids when recommended, your vehicle will continue to run as intended for years to come. Although some malfunctions may still develop in well-maintained automobiles, keeping your vehicle in proper working order is the best protection you have for remaining safe on the road.