Federal safety regulators have hit Ford Motor Company with a $17.35-million fine because the automaker took too long to recall nearly half a million Escape SUVs in 2012. According to a news report in the Los Angeles Times, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agreed to the settlement with Ford instead of potential litigation over the issue.
At issue was the 2012 safety recall of 423,634 Ford Escapes and Mazda Tributes from the 2001 and 2004 model years with V-6 engines. The vehicles were recalled to fix a throttle that could get stuck open, causing unintended acceleration. The safety problem in the Ford Escape was linked to at least one death and nine injuries, according to NHTSA. The agency said that Ford failed to notify vehicle owners, dealers and NHTSA about the defect in a timely manner. Automakers are required to make such notifications under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
Settlement Potentially Avoids Court Battle
Ford had denied that its actions violated the safety act. Ford officials say they agreed to the settlement only to “avoid a lengthy dispute with the government.” The agreement was signed June 28. The Los Angeles Times reports that failing to reach such an agreement could have led to “a bruising court battle for Ford.” Recently Chrysler and NHTSA seemed headed for a court battle, which was averted just in time when Chrysler agreed to recall Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee models for a potential fire risk. In 2012, Toyota was slapped with the same $17.35 million fine while BMW and Volvo paid smaller fines for slow recalls.
What the Fine Means
It is important to note that $17.35 million will barely make a mark on Ford Motor Company’s budget. However, it is a costly slap on the wrist for the company, which according to NHTSA, clearly violated the federal law, which exists for the safety and protection of consumers. In this particular case, Ford’s SUVs were accelerating out of control, but the automaker made no effort to inform consumers about this serious safety issue or look into the possibility of recalling the defective vehicles.
This is despite the fact that one person died and several others were injured as a result of these auto defects. It is obvious that they agreed to this settlement only because they wanted to avoid a protracted legal battle, which could have turned into a public relations nightmare and made them “look bad.”