WASHINGTON, D.C. --- The federal government publicly released long-awaited information on serious vehicle accidents Wednesday, but data on tires and child-safety seats was withheld, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided that the so-called Early Warning data -- information on specific products, automobiles and equipment linked to accidents involving death, injury or property damage -- must be published. The decision in effect ended five years of industry challenges to the release of this data.
During the first three months of 2008, the most recent data available, General Motors Corp. reported receiving complaints of 52 deaths and 610 injuries, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Ford Motor Co. said it had received reports of 40 deaths and 340 injuries and Chrysler LLC reported receiving complaints of 23 deaths and 149 injuries during the span.
In the same period, Toyota Motor Corp. advised NHTSA of eight deaths and 106 injuries, Nissan Motor Corp. said it had allegations of seven deaths and 34 injuries and Honda Motor Co. reported three deaths and 22 injuries.
Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told AP that the data often includes unsubstantiated claims and could not be used to confirm a safety problem.
He added that a company with a large global presence reports data from foreign countries in addition to the United States and a manufacturer's size and vehicle sales would play a large role in the data set.
Consumer groups said it would be useful information to car buyers. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group that sued to have the data made available, called it a "smashing success for consumers," the AP reported.
NHTSA said it had been using the data since December 2003 as a supplement to the estimated 40,000 consumer complaints it receives each year. Through the end of August, NHTSA said it had used the early warning data in 84 defect investigations, which can sometimes lead to vehicle recalls.
However, the publicly available database on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, www.safercar.gov, features only information from automobile manufacturers. What's lacking are data from tire makers, child-restraint producers and motorcycle companies, even though they are all required by law to report such information to the NHTSA, the L.A. Times reported.
Rae Tyson, spokesman for the NHTSA, said tire makers and other companies have attempted to block publication of their data by claiming it contains trade secrets.
"We have a backlog of over 100 confidentiality claims, the majority of which are from tire makers," Tyson told the L.A. Times. Tyson added that child-seat manufacturers have also filed such petitions.
The agency is reviewing the claims on an individual basis, Tyson said, and would immediately post data in cases where claims are denied. The agency has collected such data since 2003 but has not made it public because of industry challenges.
The Rubber Manufacturers Assn., a tire industry group, had opposed creation of the database. However, auto manufacturers unilaterally agreed to waive their right to confidentiality, according to spokesmen for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Assn. of International Automobile Manufacturers.
"We didn't have any problem with any of the data being published," said Kim Custer, spokesman for the international group that represents Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co., among others.
The Early Warning database is categorized by make and accident type and is reported in quarterly batches from the third quarter of 2003 through the first quarter of this year.