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NHTSA Bans Release of Auto Safety Data

August 19, 2004

The federal agency that oversees auto safety has decided - based largely on arguments from automakers and their Washington, D.C., lobbyists - that reams of data relating to unsafe automobiles or defective parts will not be available to the public. The decision was cited Saturday in a front-page New York Times story.Specifically, the government has banned the release of car and truck warranty-claims information, customer complaints and early-warning reports about defects from dealers, automakers and rental-car companies, even if media outlets or other groups push for it under the Freedom of Information Act.The rule, finalized earlier this year, is a two-paragraph decision buried deep within the Federal Register, which runs hundreds of pages each day. Few, outside automakers, their lobbyists and some public-interest groups are even aware of it.One consumer-advocacy group has sued the federal government, arguing this information should be made public and calling the decision a "paternalistic ruling that basically argues consumers are stupid and would be easily misled."Automakers, such as General Motors Corp., and the federal government say the auto-safety data should not be made public for two main reasons -- the information would give competitors too much information and it would be of little use to consumers, who might be overwhelmed or confused by all of the data.
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