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NHTSA-ordered auto recalls save lives

Modern automobiles are marvels of technology and engineering, but even the most sophisticated mechanical and electronic systems can and do fail. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration protects road users in Kentucky and around the country by making sure that manufacturers address safety defects promptly. In fact, the federal safety watchdog has ordered the recall of more than 390 million potentially dangerous vehicles, 46 million defective tires and 42 million child safety seats since 1966.

The NHTSA orders vehicle recalls when it learns of potentially dangerous defects like airbags that sometimes deploy unexpectedly or ignition switches that can get stuck and cause crashes. While these problems are sometimes brought to the NHTSA's attention by car manufacturers or parts suppliers, they often only become apparent after cars have been involved in accidents and road users have been killed or injured.

The NHTSA generally only orders recalls when product defects represent a legitimate hazard to passenger vehicle occupants or other road users. Therefore, vehicle owners may be wise to check the safety agency's website regularly for information about any outstanding safety issues. Motorists who notice defects or unusual vehicle behavior and wish to alert the authorities should contact the NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation. The ODI contacts manufacturers about safety problems and orders recalls when a series of incidents can be traced back to a defective part, faulty design or some lapse in the manufacturing process.

In addition to possible federal fines and other sanctions, auto manufacturers could face product liability lawsuits when they fail to address safety issues in a timely manner. Personal injury attorneys with experience in this area may urge the defendants in these cases to avoid costly and public litigation by settling matters quietly at the negotiating table. Manufacturers are often most concerned about the damage that product liability lawsuits can do to their reputations, and they may be more receptive to settlement overtures if plaintiffs are willing to enter into nondisclosure agreements.

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