While federal officials say the multimillion-dollar civil penalties imposed on Forest River Inc. last week are meant to make an example of the company, they also hope they can use the settlement to set a positive example for manufacturers in the future.

The Elkhart Truth reported that in the consent order announced Thursday (July 9) by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Forest River RV acknowledged it failed to report early warning safety data, including consumer complaints, warranty claims, property damage reports, and reports of injuries or deaths associated with the company’s products — and didn’t issue two recalls in a timely manner.

The company told NHTSA that it failed to report the information because its software vendor didn’t design and install software that tracked the federally mandated records.

On top of the financial penalties and several requirements designed to improve Forest River’s compliance with federal safety reporting rules, the company is ordered to put together a list of best practices it must share with other RV manufacturers and have available at RV trade shows.

“We see this not only as an opportunity to improve Forest River’s performance when it comes to safety but to help other manufacturers in the industry understand that these requirements are to improve safety and to improve their performance as well,” said Gordon Trowbridge, communications director for the NHTSA.

The reporting requirements in question were added in 2000 to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 by the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, passed in response to the poorly handled recall of 6.5 million defective Firestone tires used on Ford SUVs in the late 1990s.

Even 15 years later, some companies are not meeting the act’s standards, although Trowbridge did not know of any investigations or audits of other RV companies’ reporting compliance.

“Even before today’s announcement, NHTSA has worked with industry trade associations and with other manufacturers in terms of outreach to help that segment of vehicle manufacturers better understand what they need to do to comply with the law,” Trowbridge said.

It’s too early to tell how the Forest River settlement might impact the rest of the RV industry, said Kevin Broom, director of media relations for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), a trade organization that represents RV manufacturers and their suppliers.

The RVIA has offered to assist the NHTSA and Forest River with compiling and distributing the list of best practices, Broom said.

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