The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned carmakers to avoid unreasonable risk to avert any safety recall. NHTSA chief David Strickland told Automotive News that to avoid such recalls, carmakers must stay "within the zone of reasonable risk.” He said that entails complying with federal safety standards at the time vehicles are built as well as keeping up with the state of the art in design and technology among competitors.
His remarks made clear a key point of contention in the momentary row between NHTSA and Chrysler in June, when the agency requested the carmaker to recall 2.7 million 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Liberty SUVs.
According to Strickland, the process for identifying and probing defects in vehicles hasn't changed. He, however, reiterated NHTSA’s intention to assess vehicle data continually for indications of risks that merit a recall. He remarked that it is based on an evolving notion of unreasonable risk.
Strickland noted that the NHTSA is obligated to reassess a potential risk "if state of the art moves all the peers in one direction, and it appears that there is another part of the fleet that has not made those same moves or improvements."
This fluid standard could be one of the reasons for the dramatic rise in vehicle recalls in recent years. Carmakers initiated 664 recalls in 2012, of which 507 were made without input from the agency.
NHTSA's request to recall Chrysler’s models was unusual since it entailed a basic design issue rather than a defective component or a failure to comply with a safety standard. [source: automotive news - sub. required]