A historic moment for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA recently announced its first-ever whistleblower award. The agency says it will be awarding more than $24 million to a whistleblower who provided information related to Hyundai Motor America's and Kia Motors America's untimely recall of defective engines. The award is the maximum percentage allowed by law of the $81 million in cash collected by the United States and is the first award NHTSA has issued under its authority.
First-Ever NHTSA Whistleblower Award
The unnamed whistleblower receiving the award provided NHTSA with information related to Hyundai and Kia’s violations of the Safety Act. In November 2020, NHTSA issued Consent Orders with Hyundai and Kia reflecting the agency’s assessment that both Hyundai and Kia conducted untimely recalls of over 1.6 million vehicles equipped with Theta II engines and inaccurately reported crucial information to NHTSA about the nature of serious defects in the engines. The combined penalties in the Consent Orders amounted to $210 million, $81 million of which was paid in cash to the United States government. By statute, NHTSA may award a maximum of 30% of collected monies to a whistleblower found to contribute significant information to an action that results in penalties of more than one million dollars.
“Whistleblowers play a crucial role in bringing information to NHTSA about serious safety problems that are hidden from the agency,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator. “This information is critical to public safety and we are committed to rewarding those who bring information to us.”
Whistleblowers are protected by law. While NHTSA is in the process of drafting regulations for its whistleblower program, it says whistleblowers may receive awards without a final rule. Potential whistleblowers can already provide information to the agency by contacting NHTSAWhistleblower@dot.gov or through the agency’s hotline at 888-327-4236.
Earlier this year, the Agency launched a webpage to assist whistleblowers in determining what information they should provide and how they should go about doing so. NHTSA says it took this action to make this program easier to access in a recognition of the important role whistleblowers can play in enhancing the safety of the nation’s roadways. NHTSA says it welcomes information from whistleblowers on a wide variety of topics, including potential vehicle safety defects, noncompliance with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and violations of the Vehicle Safety Act. That information can lead to formal actions including investigations, recalls, or a civil penalty enforcement action.
The Vehicle Safety Act also protects whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers. Those protections are administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The NHTSA is also encouraging drivers to let the agency know if your vehicle may have a safety defect that isn’t part of a current recall. You can contact NHTSA online or call the agency’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Hyundai Motors