WASHINGTON (March 13, 2001)—Some insurance data, but not all, may prove useful to government officials in auto and tire defect investigations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined.
NHTSA also feels "early warning" requirements on the part of auto, tire and vehicle equipment manufacturers could play a major role in getting defective products off the streets, according to a report the agency issued March 5.
Under the provisions of the Transportation Recall Efficiency, Accountability and Documentation Act, NHTSA was required to issue a report on what data it should mandate insurance companies to give the agency in furtherance of uncovering vehicle and equipment defects.
The agency also was required to begin rulemaking on setting early warning requirements for vehicle, tire and equipment makers to turn over accident or claims reports to the agency. An advance notice of proposed rulemaking on this subject was published Jan. 22, with comments due March 23.
In the report, NHTSA noted that insurance companies regularly deal with a lot of information which could also prove crucial to the agency´s mission.
"Insurance companies regularly receive reports of crashes or fires involving insured vehicles," the report stated. "Also, the first report filed by an owner is typically made to the insurer, since the owner´s first need is to repair or replace the vehicle or to cover medical bills.
"Because of this, obtaining access to insurance companies´ claims data could provide NHTSA with a more timely identification of emerging trends in crashes or fires," it added.
On the other hand, some individual companies can provide more information than others, the agency said. For instance, State Farm´s Claims Research Auto Support Hotline database provides detailed information on make, model, model year, vehicle identification number, whether the loss was caused by fire or collision and what kind of collision was involved.
However, "the CRASH database is unique to State Farm," NHTSA said. "It may not be feasible for other, smaller insurance companies to create similar databases."
Subrogation data from insurance companies also would prove useful, the agency said, "because large insurance companies all pursue subrogation against vehicle and equipment manufacturers on at least some occasions when they believe that the manufacturer was responsible for the loss."
Insurance companies argue that the agency could get the same data just as easily from the manufacturers themselves, but NHTSA said the information would be more timely coming from insurers.
Most information sent to data clearinghouses, however, would not be useful, because it contains nothing about the causes of crashes. Only information on non-crash vehicle fires might be of use, the agency said.
Similarly, information on unusual claims rates from insurance companies wouldn´t be useful to NHTSA. "Most of the companies do perform an annual actuarial review of the loss experience by make and model year," the agency said. "However, they cannot analyze the information for causation of the claim."
Information from vehicle and equipment manufacturers—including warranty data, injury and death claims, property damage claims, field reports, consumer complaints, changes to parts, fuel leaks, fires and rollovers—is an important supplement to insurance data, according to NHTSA.
The agency "is considering requiring motor vehicle and equipment manufacturers to report incidents of which they receive actual notice which involve deaths or serious injuries which are alleged or proven to have been caused by a defect, regardless of whether there is a claim," the report stated.