General Motors Ends NHTSA Safety Oversight, Promises to Keep in Touch

General Motors’ safety practices are no longer under the watchful eye of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The three-year oversight period was part of a settlement GM reached with U.S. regulators back in May 2014, resulting from its failure to recall defective ignition switches attributed to 124 deaths and countless injuries.

While NHTSA’s role as General Motors’ personal watchdog ended last month, the automaker said it intends to continue meeting with the agency on a monthly basis to discuss potential defects. It also stated that the time spent with the regulator had been transformative, leading to a safer environment and more stringent quality control. 

“Over the past three years, we have taken significant strides toward our goal of setting a new standard for customer safety,” Jeff Boyer, GM’s vice president for vehicle safety, said in a official statement.

“GM’s goal is to bolster lessons learned and to continue a cooperative relationship between GM and NHTSA to help further advance motor vehicle safety,” Boyer continued. “In the spirit of continuous improvement, we will constantly evolve this approach to help keep the safety of our customers at the center of everything we do.”

The handling of the ignition recall was the antithesis of putting customer safety first. While General Motors eventually issued a formal recall of roughly 800,000 of its small cars, some employees had been fully aware of the potential risk caused by the poor-quality switches for years. As evidence of customer deaths mounted, GM expanded the recall to encompass nearly 30 million vehicles worldwide.

In addition to compensating its victims and the costly recall, General Motors was slapped with extensive fines and forced to forfeit almost a billion dollars to the U.S. government. CEO Mary Barra also fired over a dozen employees in 2014, including corporate lawyers who settled cases brought forward by victims’ families in hopes they would remain silent. She also apologized publicly and profusely, visited the families of victims, and established a fund for them long before any legal compensation had been decided by the courts.

The crisis helped shape Barra as the company’s then-new CEO, and she used it to help reshape GM. “I never want to put this behind us,” she told employees a few months into her first year on the job. “I want to put this painful experience permanently in our collective memories.”

After the recall, General Motors swiftly developed its Speak Up for Safety program — which encourages employees to address any safety concerns they have while also submitting new ideas. The automaker has stated it responded to hundreds of product safety concerns as a direct result of the program. “GM must embrace a culture where safety and quality come first,” Barra said during the announcement.

Hopefully the trend continues as the NHTSA becomes less involved in the manufacturer’s day-to-day operations. GM said it will continue working with regulators under a strong voluntary cooperation model and asserts its new vehicle safety structure is vastly improved due to the partnership.