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Highway Safety Initiatives

NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation Needs Your Help

By Bruce York, Division Chief, Medium and Heavy Duty Vehicles Division, U.S. Department of Transportation

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) have long partnered to save lives and prevent injuries on U.S. highways. Working together, they’re cracking down on drunk driving and distracted driving and pushing seat belt use across the United States to new, lifesaving highs.

NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) also has a strong safety record and wants to prevent injuries and deaths on U.S. roads.

ODI conducts testing, inspections, and investigations necessary for the identification and correction of safety-related defects in motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. As NHTSA’s authority lies with vehicle manufacturers, ODI is authorized to get involved only when there are defects in a vehicle’s design or manufacturing.

ODI accomplishes its mission of identifying defects primarily through the receipt of consumer complaints. In the case of light vehicles, ODI received more than 45,000 consumer complaints in 2013. However, in the case of heavy trucks and buses, ODI received only about 300 complaints during the same period.

This lack of defect information on heavy trucks and buses severely limits ODI’s ability to identify defects in heavy vehicles, remedy these vehicles’ defects, and prevent potential injuries and deaths. That’s why ODI is reaching out to law enforcement and asking for its help.

Law enforcement officers are out on the road every day working to keep people safe. ODI asks them to also consider reporting any safety-related defects that they may encounter on heavy trucks and buses.

If you see something that you believe to be a possible design, materials, or manufacturing defect on a vehicle, its tires, or other equipment, let ODI know so that it can investigate and take appropriate action. By working together, the IACP, NHTSA, and ODI can go the extra mile to protect American drivers and their families on the roads.
Contact ODI to report a defect:
844-SAF-TRUCK (844-723-8782)
NHTSA’s consumer websites are additional resources for passing along observations about possible safety defects:

Limited resources make it impossible for ODI investigators to be everywhere at once. ODI relies on public input, fire investigators, insurance companies, crash investigators, and others to identify design or manufacturing defects that could possibly result in injury or death so that ODI can investigate and determine what action, if any, is necessary to remedy the issue.

Since its inception in 1966, NHTSA has overseen safety recalls of more than 497 million cars, trucks, buses, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, and mopeds, as well as 56 million tires, 73 million pieces of motor vehicle equipment, and 35 million child safety seats due to identified safety defects. It is the only U.S. federal agency with the authority to mandate a recall of motor vehicles and related equipment, including tires and devices intended to protect children in the event of a vehicle crash.

ODI ensures the remedy of safety defects in automobiles by first identifying potential trends in consumer complaints, Early Warning data, and other information; investigating those trends; requiring, if needed, that the manufacturer remedy the defective vehicles via a safety recall; and by monitoring those recalls to verify that the remedy is appropriate and that it is being applied to the greatest extent possible. ODI’s activities are carried out by seven divisions within the office.

ODI conducts defects investigations and administers safety recalls to support NHTSA’s mission of making roadways safer. In fact, more than 293 million of the vehicles recalled were as a result of investigations conducted by ODI enforcement. ODI seeks to identify defects that pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety and ensure those vehicles are recalled and that information relating to investigations and recalls is readily available to the public. The defects may be in the design, manufacture, or performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment.

To identify these defects in heavy trucks and buses, ODI needs help. Please make ODI aware of any possible safety defects in the vehicles officers see on the road.

NHTSA takes the complaints received seriously. Every call and online submission is carefully evaluated and monitored by NHTSA defect investigators to determine if a trend exists around any potential defect and whether further action should be taken.

When a complaint is filed, staff first reviews the information and other data related to alleged defects to determine whether or not to open investigation. All complaints are reviewed within 48 hours, and if ODI feels a complaint merits further investigation, staff will reach out to the person who submitted the complaint for additional information.

Once a complaint is filed, all information is entered into ODI’s vehicle owners’ complaint database and analyzed with other complaints to determine if a safety-related defect trend exists. If a safety-related defect exists in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment, the manufacturer must provide a remedy at no cost to the owner. The complaint is the first step in the process.

To be clear, ODI does not have to receive a specific number of complaints before an investigation can be opened. ODI gathers all available information on an issue and determines how to act based on the frequency and severity of that information—not on the number of complaints it received.

By submitting detailed complaints on vehicle defects, law enforcement officers (and other citizens) can play an important role in aiding NHTSA and automakers in identifying problematic trends and developing meaningful solutions. ♦

Please cite as:

Bruce York, “NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation Needs Your Help,” Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 81 (June 2014): 78.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXXI, no. 6, June 2014. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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