Defective Wheelchair Lifts Bring Heavy Fine, Extra NHTSA Oversight
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced recently that it had agreed to a consent order with a California manufacturer of wheelchair lifts for buses, Ricon Corp. The consent order includes a $1.75 million civil penalty, as well as an increased level of oversight by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The penalty and extra oversight came about because the company violated the Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (TMVSA) when it continued to sell the defective wheelchair lifts even after it had issued a voluntary recall because of a potential fire hazard. The company also admitted to violations of federal safety regulations because it failed to promptly notify the NHTSA that it had done so.
Ricon initiated the recall of more than 4,000 wheelchair lifts in September 2012, when the company discovered that a defective cable in the units could ignite a fire. The following June, the NHTSA was concerned enough to begin contacting the bus and van manufacturers who had equipped their vehicles with Ricon wheelchair lifts, in order to make sure they knew about the recall. At the same time, the agency repeatedly asked Ricon for information about when it had stopped producing the defective lifts; requests the company failed to respond to.
Finally, in January 2014, Ricon informed NHTSA officials that it had mistakenly continued to produce and sell 356 of the same defective wheelchair lift after the recall had been issued. After a NHTSA investigation, the company announced a second recall in March 2014.
Based on these developments, the consent order demands that Ricon admit that it violated the federal vehicle safety regulations and the TMVSA, and that it must acknowledge any NHTSA communication within the first three business days for the next year. The company will also be required to develop and implement specific internal written procedures that are designed to prevent future manufacture and sale of any product that has already been recalled for safety defects. They will have to report their progress on that effort to the NHTSA every 90 days.
Though these types of wheelchair lifts are used on buses and vans to transport people who are disabled, but they don’t just put the person in the wheelchair at risk, they create a risk for everyone on the road.