WASHINGTON -- U.S. regulators have yet to complete an advanced system for fully analyzing crash data to identify defects four years after the deadly Firestone tire debacle prompted an overhaul of federal auto safety oversight, a government watchdog said Friday.
The Transportation Department inspector general's office said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has made good progress in completing new safety initiatives mandated by Congress.
But the agency continues to struggle to analyze the volume of data it receives from manufacturers on crashes, deaths, injuries and warranty claims. A system for doing this job was due to be place by 2002.
The database running now can capture information but cannot perform the type of analysis on trends that was initially envisioned, according to the report. NHTSA is looking at other options for developing or acquiring the necessary technology.
"However, NHTSA has not identified all of the software needed to analyze the (early warning) information, outlined the associated costs or developed a schedule for implementing these capabilities," the report said.
The cost of the project has also gone up from $5.3 million in June 2001 to nearly $10 million in March 2004. Development and maintenance costs are expected to top $11.4 million over the next five years.
The inspector general cited poor project management and planning in an earlier audit of the program.
A NHTSA spokesman was unavailable for comment, but the agency told the inspector general's office that the report's findings exaggerated the importance of early warning data for identifying defects.
Deadly crashes linked to blowouts and tread separations prompted massive tire recalls by Firestone in 2000 and 2001 as well as major changes in government auto safety oversight.
Firestone is a unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corp.