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Volkswagen Injury and Death Stats Significantly Underreported, Say Analysts

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Leadership & Transparency

Volkswagen's injury reports for the last decade have been impressive. In fact, they have been so good that, with the recent reports of alleged emissions fraud by the automaker, some analysts are taking a second look. And according to one study commissioned by Bloomberg News, not all of the information adds up.

Financial advisory company Stout Risius Ross looked at the reports VW's competitors fled with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration -- Honda and Fiat Chrysler in particular -- and compared them with VW. What they saw was interesting. This year, Honda and Fiat Chrysler admitted to the NHTSA that they underreported their statistics. Honda was forced to pay a fine.

But "the average reporting rate of the 11 biggest automakers was nine times higher than Volkswagen’s," Bloomberg reported. The rates were estimated per million cars on the road, in order to take into consideration the different sizes of automakers in the study.

"The data demonstrates that even on a fleet-adjusted basis, the number of reported incidents by Volkswagen is significantly below what one would expect based on those reported by other automakers,” summarized Stout Risius managing director, Neil Steinkamp. He said that they were "also significantly below" reports by those automakers cited for non-compliance of NHTSA laws.

The analysts looked at the data over the past 10 years for 11 major automakers. They used the number of accidents reported by the companies and compared them with the number of cars that were sold by each automaker that were still on the roads at that time. They then figured out the ratio of death and injury reports of vehicles (in millions) on the road.

According to the Early Reporting Law of 2000, automakers are required to submit data each year detailing the number of accidents, injuries and deaths that have been reported for their vehicles. The law came into effect after a series of accidents involving Ford SUVs. The cause was traced to Bridgestone tires, which were disintegrating in hot weather. The Early Reporting system was meant to give the government a better way to ensure transparency about potential accident trends and causes.

For the NHTSA, the alleged discrepancy in Volkswagen's numbers poses a problem: How to police reporting trends with limited staff budgets. NHTSA intends to answer that increased demand by hiring seven more staff members for the task -- essentially tripling the number of personnel who check the automakers' compliance. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says the agency also plans to meet with automakers to discuss the need for accuracy in these reports.

VW spokesperson Jeannine Ginivan responded to a request by the Detroit Bureau, stating that the company takes the safety of its customers very seriously. "We have reviewed and continued to review the findings."

Clarence Ditlow, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety, also raised questions about VW's numbers -- as well as the efficacy of a system that relies on manufacturers to self-report.

Ditlow noted that NHTSA has limited funding, and is being forced to rely on automakers to report their numbers accurately for public safety. He speculated that underreporting escalated when "the manufactures quickly caught on" that the agency was unable to police the reporting process more vigilantly.

"For the automakers, it’s a time of reckoning,” Ditlow concluded.

Image credit: Flickr/Joe Kramer

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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