Zoonar RF/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is “monitoring closely” possibly dangerous issues surrounding the 2012 Ford Focus’ steering, an official with the agency said Friday, a day after a private group named it the top auto safety concern for the second straight quarter.
“NHTSA is aware of the issue and [is] monitoring it closely. We urge all owners with a potential safety defect to contact NHTSA directly,” the official said. “Protecting the American public and ensuring vehicles are safe is [NHTSA's] top priority… Building on its proven track record, NHTSA routinely monitors consumer complaints, EWR [Early Warning Reporting] data and leads from a variety of sources… to identify potential safety defect trends that warrant investigation.”
NHTSA’s statement came in response to ABC News’ report Thursday on the latest Vehicle Watch List, a quarterly-compiled early warning list by the non-profit The Safety Institute of the top 15 vehicle trends to which safety experts say automakers and the government should be paying attention.
The list is compiled using publicly available data from NHTSA and includes consumer complaints as well as reports of injuries and deaths. The Safety Institute states it is not a list of defects, “but rather these are areas that potentially need more investigation and to prioritize limited resources.”
The inaugural list, released in June, put the 2012 Ford Focus at the top spot, based on dozens of reported injuries in which drivers cited problems with the car’s steering.
The second list, which takes into account new data, indicates NHTSA has continued to receive complaints on the 2012 Focus, including reports that the electronic power steering randomly shuts down. Friday marks the first time the agency has acknowledged it is looking into the potential problem.
“Power steering sporadically comes in and out – usually when the car is just started and we attempt to back out – the steering has no power. If this happens while driving at a higher speed – this could be bad,” wrote a consumer to NHTSA just last week. Another complaint included with the Safety Institute report from mid-June said the steering wheel locked when the driver had just started a drive.
“Thank goodness I was not in the middle of driving when this occurred,” the driver said. “This should really be investigated in order to avoid a fatal accident from happening.”
“It’s trending again at the top, it certainly needs to be investigated and this is something that should be of great interest to NHTSA,” Sean Kane, president of the board of directors of The Safety Institute, said Thursday. Kane in a different role also consults with lawyers who sue automakers.
There are no recalls or investigations into steering issues on the 2012 Ford Focus, and a spokesperson for Ford had no comment Thursday on the vehicle placing top on the Vehicle Watch List for a second time.
Upon the list’s first release in June, a spokesperson for Ford told ABC News it did not “recognize” the methodology for the safety watch list.
“We are confident in our current methods for quickly identifying and addressing potential vehicle issues,” the spokesperson added. “When the data indicates a safety recall is needed, we move quickly on behalf of our customers.” The spokesperson said then that the company takes the safety of its customers “very seriously.”
On Friday the NHTSA official asked that “anyone with additional information regarding these or any other vehicles to contact NHTSA directly.”
“As always, the agency continues to monitor our data for problems with these vehicles and consumer and others should provide NHTSA with additional information they may have,” the NHTSA official said.
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