One Year Later, No NHTSA Whistleblower Rules Announcement

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When Congress passed the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act as part of the FAST Act last December, it gave the Transportation Department 18 months to implement the regulations for the new whistleblower statute. A year later, there has been no public notice soliciting feedback on the new rules.

On one hand, Congress opened the auto whistleblower program when it passed the bill. Rather than wait for the rules to be developed, it made individuals providing information on any day after the signing of the legislation preliminarily eligible for an award. In other words, information received after Congress passed the whistleblower law can be “original information” under the statute.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the group at the Department of Transportation that currently brings enforcement actions for violations of the recall rules. So we have assumed that the whistleblower office created by this bill will lie in that office.

The NHTSA has been focused this year on self-driving cars, releasing the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy in September 2016. Calendar year 2016 has been pretty quiet from the agency on fines for manufacturers violating the safety rules, particularly compared to 2015 when both the delayed GM recall and Takata airbag failures were top of mind.

The rules are important, however, because recent history suggests that this quiet period is unlikely to last. There have been three large fines of auto manufacturers over the past decade and several years of record enforcement fines by the NHTSA. Whistleblowers will be an important part of helping the government discover companies that are not playing by the rules for the years to come. And in order to get comfortable with reporting this information to the government, the rules need to be in place.