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Company Sues Feds for Safety Data Hidden from Public


A safety research company has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in federal District Court in Washington, seeking publicly-owned data about deaths and injuries that is being concealed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), according to a report by consumer watchdog group, posted on

R.A. Whitfield, Director of Quality Control Systems Corp., said that the public needs access to the Early Warning Reports collected under the Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act to better understand why so many deaths and injuries related to tire failures in the Ford Explorer have continued long after the well-known and well-publicized tire recalls that affected the vehicle.

The article says taxpayer money was used to gather this data, which is ironically being withheld from the public that paid for it. The TREAD Act was passed in October 2000 in response to Ford Explorer-Firestone tire-related rollover deaths in the U.S. and Ford’s overseas recalls. As the article goes on to explain, TREAD amended federal transportation law to require vehicle and equipment manufacturers to report safety recalls or campaigns on vehicles and components in a foreign country if they also sold substantially similar products here in the United States.

The law also required NHTSA to create regulations governing quarterly Early Warning Reports — information on property damage and warranty claims, consumer, dealer and field reports, production numbers and deaths and injuries collected by manufacturers — with the intent of using the data to spot defect trends.

The suit alleges that after all these years the public has consistently been denied access to this information. The article points out that between July 1994 and January 15, 2007, at least 420 persons have been killed in tire-related, Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, and Mazda Navajo crashes, including 396 deaths found in NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and 24 recent deaths found in news accounts. For more than a year, Whitfield has been seeking Ford’s EWR death and injury data on Explorers to better analyze the rise in tire-related Explorer fatalities.

Whitfield and others, most notably Public Citizen (, seeking Early Warning Reports say they have been stymied by NHTSA’s decision to keep nearly all the data secret.

“It is truly outrageous that the Bush administration would move to seal such essential auto safety information from the public,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and former NHTSA administrator. “Public access to this type of data could mean the detection of problems like the deadly Ford Explorer/Firestone tire combination and could save lives.”

Indeed, this is very important information that must be available to the public and anyone who wants to see it. There is no question about it. This is information that helps people make one of the most important decisions of their life – what car they buy. At Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, we’ve dealt with enough product liability cases over three decades to know that the car you buy and the car you drive could make the difference between life and death in many cases.

For federal officials, who incidentally get paid by us, the taxpayers, to withhold such crucial information, is shameful. And it’s just plain wrong. It does not seem to me that the NHTSA is protecting the public, which is what they are paid to do. They seem more interested in protecting the interests of auto makers.

I wonder how many lives would have been saved if the data was made public earlier. I am sure the eventual tire recall would have occurred earlier than it actually did if NHTSA had released the original data on the failed Explorer tires immediately. So who were they protecting?

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