A new Top 15 auto safety watch list puts the 2012 Ford Focus at number one based on dozens of reported injuries in which drivers cited problems with the car’s steering.
The early warning list of incident trends was created by safety experts hired by Atlanta lawyer Lance Cooper, credited by many with spotting the GM ignition defect that federal experts had failed to realize from its own accident data until at least 13 people had died.
“They failed the public and they need help,” Cooper told ABC News in a report that aired this morning on "Good Morning America".
You can learn more about the early warning watch list at TheSafetyInstitute.org. [Site may be experiencing high traffic levels]
Cooper said investigators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regularly fail to spot safety trends in the accident and complaint data they collect, citing the scandals involving Firestone tires, runaway Toyotas and the GM ignition problem.
“It’s in their database but for whatever reason they’re not acquiring it in a way that allows them to determine that there are, in fact, defect trends that they need to investigate and make others aware of,” Cooper said.
In the case of the 2012 Ford Focus, the country’s best-selling car, analysts working for Cooper say they examined some 45 reports involving accident injuries.
The report noted that “there is no certainty” that any of the vehicles on the list had a safety-related defect, but said the unusual number of complaints warranted investigation.
“These are issues that are trending that are outside of the ordinary that need to be examined,” said Sean Kane, whose non-profit the Safety Institute, was hired to prepare the list.
In addition to the accident reports the manufacturers turn over, other complaints filed directly with NHTSA reported complete loss of steering control.
“I almost side-swiped cars in other lanes trying to maintain control,” wrote one Focus owner from Florida.
“I had to hold on for dear life trying to keep it in the lane,” wrote another owner in Oregon.
Ford would not directly address the questions raised about the Ford Focus steering issues. But, a spokesperson said in a statement, “We take the safety of our customers very seriously.”
The spokesperson for Ford said it did not “recognize” the methodology for the safety watch list.
“We are confident in our current methods for quickly identify 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.”
According to the NHTSA website, there is no current investigation or recall involving the Ford Focus for steering issues.
The new Top 15 safety trend list has the support of two of the Cooper’s most prominent clients, Ken and Beth Melton whose daughter Brooke was killed in an accident later blamed on the GM ignition defect.
“At some point, NHTSA knew about it from General Motors that there was a car stalling and they didn’t make it right,” Beth Melton told ABC News.
“There were all these opportunities that came up and she died and she didn’t need to die,” the Georgia mother said.
Brooke’s father, Ken, said he was livid when he realized the failure of NHTSA to spot the problem earlier.
“The only way I know to overcome the pain and make the pain less is to do something positive like this and try to strive for doing something positive for someone else,” he said.
A NHTSA spokesperson declined to comment on the Top 15 list prepared by lawyers and the Safety Institute.
A government spokesman insisted NHTSA has a “good track record” in identifying safety defects and issuing recalls and that it was not able to identify the GM problem earlier because GM hid the problem.
NHTSA imposed a $35 million fine, the maximum penalty, against GM for its failure to report the problems earlier.