Do more recalls mean less safety?

July 24, 2013
Maintaining safety becomes more challenging with new technology.

Are vehicles less safe today? It’s not an unreasonable assumption, given the number of recalls announced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Automakers initiated 664 recalls in 2012, up from 506 in 2002 and 207 in 1992, according to NHTSA.

Whether or not cars are actually less safe is difficult to say. Over the long term, cars are safer since the U.S. Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System was established in 1975, based on the number of fatalities. A total of 32,367 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2011, the last year for which statistics are available. This was the fewest deaths, fatal crashes and motor vehicles involved in fatal crashes since the reporting system was established in 1975.

More recalls do not necessarily mean cars are less safe. Automakers are aware that safety issues impact sales, and they are more aggressive about taking measures such as recalls to protect safety.

According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the actual number of recalled vehicles has declined despite an increase in recalls. A spokesman for this group told that recalls are increasing because automakers are spotting problems faster than ever and correcting them.

In addition, the NHTSA has become more aggressive in its recalls, based on recent comments by David Strickland, the NHTSA administrator.

NHTSA recently issued a widely publicized recall of certain Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokees and Liberty SUVs over a fuel tank design. Chrysler initially refused the request, but relented a few weeks later, as reported in

With the rise of social media, automakers recognize that public concern has to be addressed as fast as possible if they don’t want their reputations to suffer.

Carmakers also continue to develop more safety features in their new designs. Innovations such as blind spot monitoring, electronic stability control, forward collision warning systems, obstacle detection systems and roll stability control systems are intended to improve consumer safety.

Yet new innovations (and not just safety innovations) and the pressure to be first to market with them creates the need for new and oftentimes burdensome safety testing for automakers.

Whether or not cars are becoming less safe because of these factors is difficult to say.

And whether or not rising recalls and safety lawsuits are creating the perception that cars are less safe is also difficult to say.

But as technology creates new innovations and automakers want to introduce vehicles at a faster rate, maintaining safety has become more challenging. It is up to the automakers and the automotive aftermarket to recognize safety issues when they arise.

Independent repair shops should keep customers informed about recalls. Customers rely on aftermarket shops to keep them up to date on safety related information.

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