Improving Auto Safety


The recent Toyota recalls for unintended acceleration have brought nationwide media attention to defects in vehicles that while rare, are potentially dangerous, even fatal. Many people have wondered why these problems were not brought into light sooner. The reality is that because these issues are infrequent, they can be the most difficult to catch.

Consumer Reports in conjunction with the Consumer Union, a nonprofit consumer safety watchdog has written a report about what the government, manufacturers and consumers can do to improve auto safety.

Consumers are important players in improving the safety of vehicles because they are the ones who drive their cars on a regular basis. In the case of Toyota, drivers were the first to report cases of unintended acceleration to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Consumers should always share information and observation about safety issues. Consumer Reports recommends that consumers take action in the following ways:
  • Share information about safety issues: If your vehicle experiences any problems with braking, steering, accelerating or anything that is highly unexpected or sudden, it should be reported. Consumers can contact the NHTSA via their website or call the vehicle's manufacturer. Consumers should also get vehicle issues fixed immediately and not wait for it to happen again.
  • Act on recall information: The average consumer response rate to vehicle recalls is only 74.1 percent. Sometimes recall notifications do not reach vehicle owners because they bought a used car or changed their address. Some owners are aware of the recall but wait to get their car fixed. If your car has been recalled, you should get it fixed as soon as possible and not wait until something goes wrong.

Many incidents of auto safety malfunctions go unreported a year. While it is true that governments and manufacturers and consumers all play an important role in taking actions when problems arise, an educated and aware consumer can help improve safety for all drivers. The NHTSA gathers only approximately 30,000 complaints each year, which is small considering that around 203 million drivers were licensed last year. And taking into account the high volume of vehicles that were recalled by Toyota this year, it can be assumed that many incidents of safety issues go unreported.

Consumers should also remember to report problems to safety regulators and manufacturers, not just to online forums which only contain fellow consumers. By getting the information to an authority, like the NHTSA, or to the car's manufacturer, consumers ensure that they are getting  the valuable help they need and if the problem continues to occur for other drivers, that action can be taken on a larger scale.

Drivers must also remember that largely, the cause of traffic fatalities are inside their own control. Drunk or distracted driving and not wearing a seat belt account for many more safety issues that result in fatality a year. In fact, 14,000 deaths occur a year because a driver or passenger was not wearing a seat belt. Furthermore, 12,000 deaths per year are associated with drunk driving, 11,000 with speeding, and 6,000 because the driver was distracted, most often by a cellphone.