Rather than indicating a problem with the industry, the increase in vehicle recall rates may actually provide evidence that car safety is improving.

Should I be worried about the increase in vehicle recalls? Are cars getting less safe?



Many vehicle recalls have made headlines over the past few years. With the Takata airbag recall, the Ford door latch dilemma, and GM’s fire hazard scandal, vehicle defects have gotten a lot of press and made many wonder if car safety is going downhill. The answer to this question is a little ambiguous because the numbers suggest “yes” while reality may tell us the answer is “no.” It’s all in how you look at it.

Increase in Recalls Demonstrates Increase in Safety

OK, so why does a record-breaking number of recalls prove that vehicle safety is improving? Well, to understand the why you need to understand the how.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), automakers recalled a record 51.2 million vehicles in 868 separate recalls in 2015. This recall amount narrowly surpassed the previous year’s mark of 51 million vehicles in 779 recalls. To the layman, 100 million defective cars in two years doesn’t seem encouraging for safety ratings. However, the fact that the number of recalls is going up means that more and more issues are being discovered and fixed before they cause catastrophic injuries.

Mark Rosekind, a NHTSA administrator, explained that the record year for recalls in 2015 goes to show how the agency and automakers are both working to increase their commitment to enforcing safety regulations. As regulators and automakers begin to work together, potential defects that may have gone uninvestigated in the past are now getting the full attention they need as a result of the following:

  • Increased enforcement. Regulators are beginning to step up their game and increase pressure for vehicle manufacturers to recall car models when a defect has been discovered. No longer are car makers able to ignore or avoid NHTSA’s recall suggestions, as is evident with the increase in recall numbers.
  • Increased scrutiny. According to Rosekind, NHTSA has made “major efforts in the last year to improve [its] processes for identifying vehicle defects.” As a result, even minor defects are being investigated and brought to the manufacturer’s attention.
  • Increased reporting. The vigilance in specifically looking for defects, rather than hoping to not find any, has increased safety effectiveness by an astounding degree. Not only are vital defects being discovered and addressed but potential problems are also being identified and re-worked to prevent future problems.
  • Increased cooperation. On January 15, 2016, at the Detroit North American International Auto Show, a representative from NHTSA announced that it made an agreement with 18 automakers to improve cooperation on identifying and addressing safety defects while completing recalls as quickly as possible.

Although the increase of these safety measures inevitably increases recall rates, the overall outcome produces safer and more reliable vehicles, which in turn creates safer roads.

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