Consumer groups press appeals court over regional auto recalls

Friday, December 9th 2005, 11:20 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A government policy of limiting some vehicle recalls by region violates federal law and prevents all owners from being warned, an attorney for two consumer groups told a federal appeals court Friday.

Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety challenged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's policy that allows automakers to conduct recalls involving defects related to regional conditions such as snow or heat.

Bonnie Robin-Vergeer, an attorney for the groups, said a 1998 letter that NHTSA sent to manufacturers clarifying its policies should be considered a rule change requiring public comment. She said it violates federal law requiring all owners to be notified.

``It reads like a regulation and it is a de facto regulation,'' she said. ``Automakers have been adhering to it.''

But Jane Lyons, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the letter does not ``provide any real binding criteria'' forcing manufacturers to follow the recommendations. She said regional recalls involve only about 1 percent of all recalls.

A federal district court judge dismissed the group's lawsuit in Sept. 2004, leading to the appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.