Products Liability Law Daily NHTSA posts new whistleblower program webpage enhancing transparency
Tuesday, June 15, 2021

NHTSA posts new whistleblower program webpage enhancing transparency

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

The webpage provides easy access to information and FAQs for potential whistleblowers seeking to convey safety concerns.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created a new webpage for employees and contractors to provide whistleblower information to the agency. Not only is it intended that the new information page will make it easier for any employee or contractor of a motor vehicle manufacturer, part supplier, or dealership to provide whistleblower information to NHTSA, but the webpage will assist whistleblowers in determining what information they should provide and how they should go about doing so, according to an agency press release. In recognition of the important role of whistleblowers in increasing the safety of the nation’s roadways, NHTSA said that it is taking this action to make the program easier to access. Noting that safety is NHTSA’s top priority, NHTSA Acting Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff stated, "Whistleblowers play a critical role in safeguarding our nation’s roadways, and we will do everything in our power to protect them" (NHTSA Press Release, June 14, 2021).

The Vehicle Safety Act protects the confidentiality of whistleblowers and safeguards them from retaliation by their employers. These protections are administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). NHTSA has directed interested individuals to the OSHA website for further information. Currently, the agency is working on a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to formalize its whistleblower program, but it does not want potential whistleblowers to wait for the NPRM, and is advising them that a pathway is in place to provide NHTSA with information relating to safety concerns. Further, the release notes that in addition to whistleblowers having legal protection from retaliation, they may receive a monetary award without the rule being finalized.

Whistleblower information topics. NHTSA states that it welcomes information from whistleblowers on many possible topics, including potential motor vehicle safety defects, noncompliance with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), and violations of the Vehicle Safety Act. Such information can lead to formal actions, such as investigations, recalls, or a civil penalty enforcement action. The new webpage answers a number of frequently asked questions as well, such as who is eligible for whistleblower status, what procedures should one follow in making a whistleblower submission, what should the submission contain, and what happens after a submission is made.

Monetary awards. NHTSA may pay a monetary award to a whistleblower who provides original information leading to the successful resolution of an enforcement action for violations of law. The amount of an award to a whistleblower is between 10 and 30 percent of the collected monetary sanctions over $1 million.

The agency provides information on prior enforcement actions on its website, and it has collected the following settlement amounts during fiscal year 2021:

  • November 23, 2020-Kia Motors America (RQ17-003) for the untimeliness of NHTSA Recall No. 17V224 and the inaccuracy in Kia’s Defect and Noncompliance Information Report (49 U.S.C. §30118(c); 49 U.S.C. §30166, 49 C.F.R. §573.6); $27 million (Total civil penalty: $70 million; date penalty received: January 21, 2021).
  • November 23, 2020-Hyundai Motor America (RQ17-004) for the untimeliness of two recalls (NHTSA Recall Nos. 15V568 and 17V226), the inaccuracies in Hyundai’s Defect and Noncompliance Information Reports, and the inaccuracies and omissions in a required report (SEL list) (49 U.S.C. §30118(c); 49 U.S.C. §30166, 49 C.F.R. §573.6); $54 million (Total civil penalty: $140 million; date penalty received: January 20, 2021).
  • December 29, 2020-Daimler Trucks North America, LLC (AQ18-002) for violations of the Safety Act, in both the timeliness of five recalls (NHTSA Recall Nos. 17V761, 18V163, 18V157, 18V158, and 18V190) (49 U.S.C. § 30118(c); 49 C.F.R. §§573.6(b)), and the untimely submission of manufacturer communications and field reports (49 U.S.C. §30166(f),(m); 49 C.F.R. §§579.5, 579.22); $10 million (Total civil penalty: $30 million; date penalty received: January 12, 2021).

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