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Improving The Communication System For Auto Recalls

The Takata airbag recall will forever change the way auto recalls are conducted in the United States. The recall, which bankrupted Takata while affecting over 40 million U.S. vehicles, has resulted in at least 18 deaths to date. At least seven of the drivers who died received notice of the recall after it was too late.

Companies have begun to undertake massive outreach campaigns to contact drivers, using methods previously unseen in the United States. This campaign, which has included social media outreach and direct door-to-door contact, has been done in an effort to save lives and reduce liability for automakers. By providing direct notice to owners, automakers reduce their chances of being held liable for damages.

As a result of the massive recall, there could also be updates to databases that contain driver information. These updates would simplify outreach in case of future recalls.

Maryland Could Pave The Way

Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration was recently awarded a federal grant worth nearly a quarter of a million dollars to help coordinate a database that connected recall information with vehicle registrations. The plan is designed to promote cooperation between automakers and motor vehicle agencies.

The program seeks to inform drivers about recall information when they receive their vehicle registration renewal notices. Currently, automakers only have information about drivers on cars purchased at their dealerships. If a driver has not maintained current information or has since sold their car, there’s a good chance information about the recall will not be received. Since every driver must register their current vehicle with the state, Maryland’s program will ensure that every driver receives the most up-to-date information for their vehicle.

If Maryland’s program is successful, it should mark a tangible improvement in the number of recalled vehicles that are remedied. Currently, only 70% of vehicles that have been recalled are repaired. Maryland representatives maintain that this innovative program will save lives and help protect the state’s citizens.

The only downside of the program is that it simply promises to raise awareness. It does not promise to raise enforcement. The state hopes that drivers who were otherwise unaware of a recall will choose to have their vehicles repaired, but there is no way for the state to require them to do so. Drivers will still be allowed to renew their vehicle’s registration even without having the defective part repaired.

Changes To The NHTSA Website

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration currently offers a database that allows drivers to look up recalls based on their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). However, a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that many users found the website difficult to use. Since usability may be an issue, or because some may have simply never heard of the VIN search option on the site, the tool often goes to waste. This, in turn, leaves many drivers unaware that a part of their vehicle has been recalled.

Two trade associations have investigated creating their own database that could rival the NHTSA’s VIN database. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers are currently negotiating with a service provider to create their own database allowing for bulk searches of VINs.

This new database would provide a report of multiple VINS that are subject to a safety recall. The report will also describe the problem and the suggested solution. A mass VIN search could be beneficial to those who otherwise would have to pour through individual registrations contained in an automaker’s database.

The batch VIN service is intended to assist

• Vehicle registrars
• State divisions of motor vehicles
• State vehicle inspection programs
• Insurance companies
• Auto finance companies
• Dealerships
• Fleets
• Vehicle auction companies


This is a noticeable difference from the current NHTSA database, which exists to allow single users to search for their individual VIN numbers.

On a similar note, the NHTSA also recently issued a rule that requires vehicle owners to receive electronic communication of recalls from automakers. Up until this point, automakers were only required to submit notification via first-class mail. This is an obvious improvement that will hopefully increase the number of owners who are made aware of vehicle recalls.