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Auto Recalls in Recent American History

An Overview

You don't need to be a news-hound to give specific examples of automobile recall scandals over safety defects. One of most recent scandals concerned Takata air bags. Before that, it was the General Motors ignition switch scandal. A few years before that, it was the Toyota scandal involving "sudden, unintended acceleration." There were probably at least a dozen other safety recalls in recent history that we didn't mention.

Because they have occurred so often in the past several years, the American public might be starting to think that automobile safety defects are a relatively recent phenomenon. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Indeed, this week marks the 15th anniversary of a recall of millions of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires. The defective and dangerous tires were linked to hundreds of car accidents and 46 or more deaths.

Readers may remember that the dangerous tires were commonly found on Ford Explorer SUVs. The tread on the tires could easily wear off, leading to high rates of failure. And when the tires failed, a rollover accident was a likely scenario.

Fifteen years ago this week, Bridgestone/Firestone issued a recall that would eventually include 6.5 million tires. The company also faced a federal investigation and about 50 lawsuits.

If you followed this story or more recent recall stories, you have probably noticed that the plot points tend to be remarkably similar. In the wake of preventable accidents and deaths, a recall is issued. Regulators are left wondering how much automakers knew about the problem and when they knew it. Congressional hearings may be held; fines will be issued and paid. In the end, the same manufacturing and quality assurance issues continue almost unchanged until a new safety hazard inevitably arises.

It is said that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. How many more times must this scenario be repeated?

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