Carter-era highway safety chief says shutdown threatens drivers

Since the shutdown of the federal government began on Oct. 1, the highway traffic safety agency has furloughed 333 of its 597 employees. The NHTSA furloughs represent a small fraction of the Department of Transportation’s overall 18,000 furloughs, but the agency has said its staff has been reduced to 264 workers during the government shutdown.

Claybrook said on Wednesday that the NHTSA employees do critical work that keeps driver safe.

“NHTSA’s primary function for 47 years is the power to issue recalls of defective vehicles and notify the public of safety defects in their vehicles,” she said. “This ability has been suspended pursuant to the furlough. Additionally, vehicle manufacturers who discover defects will be unable to voluntarily report these problems to NHTSA and notify owners. Consumers will have no remedy for safety defects that risk life and property until this power is restored to the agency.”

Claybrook added that the NHTSA “oversees nearly 700 recalls every year, affecting 20 million vehicles." 

“For every NHTSA workday lost to the furlough, an average of three recalls covering 80,000 vehicles are delayed indefinitely,” she said. 

House Republicans moved on Wednesday to restore funding for the FAA as part of their plan to reopen federal agencies on a piecemeal basis. However, the White House has threatened to veto the lower chamber piecemeal appropriations bills, and the Senate has rejected them.

Claybrook said she agreed reopening only part of the U.S. transportation department would not be effective.

“It is outrageous that the House’s action today in only taking up funding for the FAA is essentially ignoring the safety risks of millions of motorists on the road every day,” she said.