That shocking stat comes courtesy of Bloomberg, which notes that the Office of Defects Investigation at NHTSA has actually decreased in size. In 2002, there were 64 employees. The office's budget, meanwhile, has remained at just $10 million since 2005, despite NHTSA as a whole getting $851 million to play around with in 2015.
"The idea of $10 million for an office that's in charge of the safety of all these vehicles, undertaking investigations and doing the recalls, it's just ridiculous," Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told Bloomberg.
One possible solution to the issue has been proposed in the US Senate this week. According to the report, regulators would be forced to publish all information the agency collects into a searchable format, allowing various groups, from safety advocates to lawyers to other car companies to pick up the slack. That proposal would seem to come with its own set of potential problems, but considering that NHTSA's 51 Office of Defects Investigation employees are tasked with handling over 40,000 complaints from consumers, clearly something needs to be done.
"They're getting information, and they're not following up," Sally Greenberg, president of another advocacy group, the National Consumers League, told Bloomberg via phone. "They're not capturing the information in a way that's useful. They're not responding quickly to a litany of similar complaints."
Even as cars become safer and more reliable each year, the fact that there are just 51 people monitoring them for safety defects seems astonishing. Here's hoping that between the headline-grabbing recalls at Toyota and General Motors, Washington realizes that more investigators and more resources are required.