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Shifting Out of Park: Moving Auto Safety from Recalls to Reason

by Kevin M. McDonald

ISBN: 1933264160

2006 by Kevin M. McDonald and 

Lawyers & Judges Publishing Company
Tucson, Arizona


42,636 people were killed in US traffic crashes in 2004.  In the same year more than 30 million vehicle recall notices were issued (about 1.7 recalls for every new vehicle sold).  The agency responsible for the massive expenditures and activity associated with these recalls has no idea how many fatalities there would have been if there had been zero recalls.  However, my judgmental estimate suggests that the number would likely have been in the range 42,633 to 42,637.  

The possible increase in deaths due to recalls arises because the recall notices cause additional travel.  It is certain that additional travel generates additional risk.  However, there is no corresponding confidence that the fatality risk associated with the vehicle is lowered by the fix specified in the recall.

About a quarter of recalls are ignored.  Despite the prodigious sample sizes generated by decades of recalls, there is no evidence that the vehicles not fixed pose higher risks than those fixed.

 The agency promoting the recalls is NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (emphasis added).  Traffic safety can be considered to have three components - driver safety, roadway safety, and vehicle safety.  These are listed in steeply descending order of importance.  Shifting Out of Park: Moving Auto Safety from Recalls to Reason shows that not only does NHTSA devote disproportionate attention to vehicle factors, but performs this task in a most ineffective manner. 

Other countries with more science-based safety policies have more than halved their traffic deaths.  What distinguishes the US from other countries is the uniquely powerful role litigation plays in all aspects of American life.  The recall situation is one manifestation of this dominance of litigation.

 Shifting Out of Park: Moving Auto Safety from Recalls to Reason provides an insightful evaluation of the history, background, and process of how the US ended up with recalls consuming such a large portion of our safety resources and focus.  As we got here through litigation, it takes a lawyer to explain how it all happened.  Dr. Kevin McDonald is not only an exceptionally well-qualified lawyer, but he has first-hand experience of the recall process from within the automobile industry.  Added to this is his academic and industry experience in both Europe and the United States. 

Dr. McDonald presents a detailed scholarly account of the evolution of what happened, why it happened, and how we can, starting from where we are, begin to move in a direction that will better serve the American public.  The book is clear and convincing.  Copious details and documentation permit in depth examination of a number of specific recalls that will help specialists litigating current recalls.  However, as these details are confined to extensive footnotes, they do not impede the flow of the ideas.  The book is accessible, enjoyable, and engrossing reading to those with no legal background.  It should be of interest to any citizen concerned with the deaths and injuries occurring every day on our roads. 

Shifting Out of Park: Moving Auto Safety from Recalls to Reason should be required reading for every member of Congress, and every professional working on recall issues.  It is assured an honored place in the safety literature.  What is most important is that, if attention is paid to it, many American lives would be saved.

Leonard Evans

Above is Foreword  to Shifting Out of Park: Moving Auto Safety from Recalls to Reason 

by Kevin M. McDonald

 ISBN: 1933264160,   2006 by Kevin M. McDonald and Lawyers & Judges Publishing Company,