By Eric D. Lawrence and Todd Spangler

Detroit Free Press

Federal workers must go without pay, national parks are a mess, and now vehicle safety investigations are on hold.

The agency responsible for investigating defects in the nation’s cars, trucks and SUVs does not plan to do so during the government shutdown.

It’s the latest in a growing list of impacts caused by a political test of wills between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for a border wall.

On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed that its investigators will be not be performing some key tasks, including defect investigations.

“During a government shutdown, some key agency functions will be discontinued until funding is restored. Functions funded by the Highway Trust Fund will continue, while those funded by annual appropriations will be suspended, including safety defect investigations, field crash investigations, review of consumer complaints, and notification of new vehicle and equipment recalls,” according to a statement from the agency.

On Tuesday, it clarifed:

“If NHTSA becomes aware of an imminent threat to the safety of human life that could be caused by defective or noncompliant motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment, NHTSA will respond to protect safety. Furthermore, federal law requires that all vehicle manufacturers issue appropriate recalls when a manufacturer becomes aware of any defect in the design, manufacture or performance of any motor vehicle, or noncompliance with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard.”

Joan Claybrook, who ran NHTSA in the Carter administration, said suspending defect investigations and the review of complaints coming in from manufacturers and consumers means people are not being alerted about possible dangers.

“It means that even though these investigations take time, it’s going to be delayed even more,” she said. “If it’s a serious, serious hazard, that repair is going to be made much later.”

Jason Levine, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Auto Safety, questioned the administration’s priorities.

“If there’s any question as to whether this unnecessary shutdown has a direct impact on the safety of America’s roads, just look to the Trump Department of Transportation decision that enforcing vehicle safety standards is not necessary for the safety of life and preservation of property,” Levine said.

In December, NHTSA had 13 active defect investigations, including upper steering column separations in 2008-13 Toyota Highlanders, power steering failures in 2010 Ford Fusions and spontaneous sunroof breakage in 2011-13 Kia Sorentos. Based on the response from NHTSA, it would appear those investigations are suspended.

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