If it weren't for them, we'd all have faulty airbags in our cars.
Whistleblowers have been instrumental in exposing shady practices in government, in show business, and of course, the auto industry. While there are government laws in place to protect whistleblowers, qualifying for protection isn't easy and there can still be repercussions if their identity is revealed.
That's why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is making it easier and safer to be a whistleblower in the auto industry with the launch of a new website that provides information about protection available to them. It also enables employees and contractors who work for a car company to submit complaints to the agency without fear of retaliation.
"Safety is the top priority for NHTSA and the entire U.S. Department of Transportation," said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA's Acting Administrator. "Whistleblowers play a critical role in safeguarding our nation's roadways, and we will do everything in our power to protect them."
NHTSA hopes this new service will encourage whistleblowers to report potential vehicle safety defects, noncompliance with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and violations of the Vehicle Safety Act. In the past, whistleblowers have led to investigations, recalls, and penalties. In some cases, NHTSA will pay whistleblowers who provide information that leads to enforcement action between 10% and 30% of sanctions over $1 million.
One of the most well-known whistleblower cases in the auto industry relates to Takata's faulty airbag inflators that would explode when deploying, resulting in 19 deaths and at least 250 injuries in the US. This led to the largest automotive recall in history affecting over 60 million vehicles and 20 manufacturers including Honda, BMW, and Toyota.
Takata was also ordered to pay a $1 billion settlement after the company was found guilty of fraud for covering up the defects. Cars fitted with defective Takata airbags are still being recalled - just last week, BMW recalled over 4,500 3 Series cars built between the 1999-2001 model years with a faulty airbag inflator.