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DOT motor vehicle safety whistleblower program takes a big step

The long-dormant motor vehicle safety whistleblower program is starting to show signs of life.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted on its website a new whistleblower information page that explains how the Department of Transportation whistleblower program works.

Congress created the motor vehicle safety whistleblower program as part of the FAST Act (“Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” Act) in 2015, but NHTSA has yet to create regulations for the program.

NHTSA’s whistleblower program has several key elements.

  • Any employee or contractor of a motor vehicle manufacturer, part supplier or dealership may be a whistleblower.
  • Whistleblowers may receive an award for reporting motor vehicle safety issues, such as potential vehicle safety defects, noncompliance with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and violations of the Vehicle Safety Act, if the original information provided by the whistleblower leads to a successful administrative or judicial action resulting in monetary sanctions exceeding $1 million.
  • Whistleblowers can receive 10% to 30% of the monetary sanctions collected as a result of their information and assistance.
  • Motor vehicle manufacturers, part suppliers and dealerships are prohibited from firing or otherwise retaliating against an employee who blows the whistle.
  • By law, NHTSA must keep whistleblowers’ identities confidential – with certain narrow exceptions.
  • The law also prohibits motor vehicle manufacturers, auto part suppliers and dealerships from retaliating against employees who reported motor vehicle safety issues, assisted in a proceeding related to a motor vehicle safety violation or refused to participate in an activity the employee reasonably believed to violate the Act.

“Whistleblowers play a critical role in safeguarding our nation’s roadways, and we will do everything in our power to protect them,” said NHTSA’s Acting Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff in a statement.

NHTSA is currently working on proposed rules to govern the whistleblower program. However, whistleblowers may go ahead and provide information to NHTSA and qualify for an award based on the statute. The agency has yet to issue any whistleblower awards.

NHTSA has penalized several companies this year for motor vehicle safety violations.

  • Kia Motors America agreed to pay $70 million in civil penalties for not issuing a timely recall of certain vehicles with an engine crankshaft defect and for inaccuracy in a defect and noncompliance report. NHTSA said the defect could cause eventual bearing failure that would lead to stalling.
  • Hyundai Motor America will pay a total of $140 million in civil penalties for untimeliness of recalls, including one due to a fuel leak that could occur in a low-pressure fuel hose. Engine heat could cause the hose to crack over time, resulting in fuel leakage that would be a fire hazard. Additionally, Hyundai was sanctioned for inaccuracies and omissions in required reporting.
  • Daimler Trucks North America agreed to pay $30 million in civil penalties to resolve violations of the Safety Act, stemming from the untimeliness of five recalls. One recall was related to a brake light failure that could increase risk of crashes.

If you are aware of vehicle safety defects, noncompliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards or violations of the Vehicle Safety Act and would like to discuss your matter with experienced, successful whistleblower attorneys, contact us for a free, confidential review of your matter.

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