NHTSA: A Brief History and Overview

NHTSA: A Brief History and Overview

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), under the U.S. Department of Transportation, was established by the Highway Safety Act of 1970.

In 1972, the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act expanded NHTSA’s scope to include consumer information programs.

For more than four decades now, NHTSA’s purposes and mission has been to be a data collection and reporting mechanism responsible for reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes. This is accomplished by setting and enforcing safety performance standards for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment, and through grants to state and local governments to enable them to conduct effective local highway safety programs.

One of the chief functions of NHTSA is to collect reports of complaints issued against automotive manufacturers: The types of complaints that NHTSA receives fall into four primary categories:

  • vehicles
  • child restraints
  • automotive equipment
  • tires

NHTSA investigates safety defects in motor vehicles, sets and enforces fuel economy standards, helps states and local communities reduce the threat of drunk drivers, promotes the use of safety belts, child safety seats and air bags, investigates odometer fraud, establishes and enforces vehicle anti-theft regulations and provides consumer information on motor vehicle safety topics.

NHTSA also conducts research on driver behavior and traffic safety to develop the most efficient and effective means of bringing about safety improvements.

How are NHTSA complaints filed?

NHTSA allows consumer and the public at large to report such complaints in a variety of ways:

  • Vehicle Safety Hotline, which is a toll free number (1-888-327-4236 or 1-800-424-9393) from anywhere in United States, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands
  • Online (http://www.safercar.gov), by selecting ‘File a Complaint’ within the Defects and Recalls section of the home page
  • U.S. Mail: Send a letter reporting your safety complaint to the following address

U S Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Office of Defects Investigation (NVS-210)
West Building
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE.

What does NHTSA do with the complaints?

The information provided is saved in NHTSA consumer complaint automated database and is catalogued according to vehicle make, model year, manufacturer, and the affected part, assembly, or system. The complaints can be tracked at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems, which is updated weekly.

One of the major functions of  NHTSA is the oversight, which is achieved by doing investigations and recommending recalls for issues found. NHTSA reviews all the information it collects including complaints, emails, anonymous reports, manufacturer letters, incoming service bulletins etc., to identify a potential issue and possible conduct an investigation.

What can manufacturers do with this information?

By quickly, easily and flexibly accessing this complaints data in real time, manufacturers are able to analyze complaint trends, identify potential causation and correlation, monitor issues over time or in real time, and make informed decisions on a go-forward basis. Datrato culls and processes this data, updated on a daily basis, and gives users access to infinitely expandable and manipulatable data sets in a matter of minutes — not the days it might take large teams to sift through and analyze complaints reports.

Our next installment will kick off a four-part in-depth examination of what manufacturers are able to do by harnessing the power of the enormity of NHTSA data, beginning with a sampling of complaints data mined via Datrato.

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