Increased Recall Completion Rates Will Save Lives and Prevent Injuries

Our first meeting was a little awkward, taking place just moments before we both testified before a U.S. Senate committee investigating deaths and injuries...

Our first meeting was a little awkward, taking place just moments before we both testified before a U.S. Senate committee investigating deaths and injuries from rupturing Takata airbag inflators. One of us was injured by an inflator in a car accident, resulting in a severe eye injury, emotional trauma and months of recovery. One of us works for the company that manufactured the car. What brought us together was tragic.  However, now we are working together on a proposal that we believe will help prevent such injuries and save the lives of others by significantly increasing the repair rates for vehicles recalled in America.

Millions of vehicles made by some 10 different automakers have been recalled to replace front airbag inflators on the driver's side, passenger's side, or both. But the distressing truth is that despite the best efforts of automakers, about a third of all cars and trucks recalled in America for safety defects are never brought to the dealer for repair. The rate is much worse for older cars. As a result, the required repairs are never made and, unfortunately, drivers and passengers in the affected vehicles are unnecessarily exposed to the risk of death or injury.

There are a number of other reasons as well.  When automakers mail recall notices, customers might miss a recall entirely due to a change of address.  Or, if the owner does receive a notice, it might be discarded in error because they think it is junk mail.  And sometimes, the owner might intend to get the repair completed, but doesn't recognize the importance and simply forgets or cannot find the time.

We are working together now to support an effort to achieve 100 percent completion of every automotive recall campaign in America.  At the Congressional hearing last fall where we met prior to giving testimony, Honda  proposed a requirement  that all outstanding safety recall repairs be completed before a vehicle can be legally registered in a state. We stand ready to support legislation that will soon be introduced by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) that will accomplish this important goal.

In every state of the union, vehicle owners are already required to register and license their vehicles. We believe the process of vehicle registration is a logical point to require an additional check for any open safety recalls in order to ensure that repairs are completed.

The reality is that the majority of the Takata airbag ruptures to date have involved vehicles that are more than 10 years old.  Despite millions of notifications in both English and Spanish, the use of phone calls, unique mail campaigns and even the use of private investigators to help track down customers, too many recall repairs remain uncompleted.

This is why we are joining forces to advocate for a new requirement to check for safety recalls at the time of vehicle registration. There is ample precedent that it will work. Many states already decline vehicle registration renewals until the owner's vehicle passes a tailpipe emissions test. And this is now a routine part of the registration process for millions of American vehicle owners.

If each state will require that open recalls related to safety issues also be addressed before completing registration, the risk of death and injury to people in unrepaired older model vehicles will be greatly reduced.

While we are proposing that the states take a role in helping to increase recall completion rates, we want to be clear that automakers will always have a critical responsibility in notifying owners. And all dealerships and repair facilities should be required to check for, and notify the customer of, any open recalls when a vehicle is in for service, or when selling a used vehicle.

In the coming days, we will work together to move this proposal forward. When it comes to ensuring that safety-related recalls are completed, automakers, government and concerned citizens need to work together to protect drivers, passengers and others on the road.  Everyone has an important stake in making sure these vehicles are repaired.

In the meantime, we encourage anyone with a vehicle affected by any recall to take immediate action to make the needed repair at their authorized dealership.

Stephanie Erdman Rick Schostek
Stephanie Erdman is a resident of Florida Executive Vice President
Honda North America, Inc.

This commentary appeared in Automotive News on March 2, 2015.




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