7NEWS Uncovers MassDOT Vehicle Safety Concerns

(WHDH) — 7NEWS has discovered Massachusetts workers driving state-owned cars with serious safety issues. Auto safety experts say they shouldn’t even be on the road.

We found the vehicles in Worcester, Taunton, Arlington, and Boston. Some of the cars were out on the road – others were parked in spaces reserved for prominent employees.

In all, 7NEWS discovered more than 200 Massachusetts Department of Transportation vehicles that had been recalled, but were never repaired. Some had been left unfixed for a decade or more.

“Any recall, by its very nature, is a safety hazard,” said Sean Kane, an auto safety expert and president of Safety Research & Strategies in Rehoboth.

Cars are recalled when an automaker or federal regulators believe they pose an unreasonable safety risk. Kane said an agency that specializes in transportation failing to fix recalled cars is a huge issue.

“These are problems that can kill and injure people,” Kane said.

Nearly half of all of the recalled MassDOT vehicles 7NEWS discovered had doors that could open on their own while the car was in motion. Fifteen had fuel lines and tanks that could come loose. Eleven were part of the massive Takata airbag recall a couple of years ago – those vehicles carried the risk of metal fragments shooting through the airbags.

7NEWS found other MassDOT car recalls related to a potential loss of steering control, engines stalling, air filters and fuel leaks that could start fires, and accelerator pedals that could get stuck at high speeds.

One recalled vehicle, with the risk of a wheel coming off the car, went unrepaired for 13 years.

“Not only are they jeopardizing the safety of their employees, but they’re opening up a liability that they really shouldn’t be opening up,” Kane said. “These can be repaired at no cost to the state, and should be, immediately.”

“We have a system that admittedly could use some improvements,” said Jonathan Gulliver, MassDOT’s Highway Administrator.

Gulliver admitted that MassDOT wasn’t tracking recalls as closely as it should.

“With a centralized system, as we have, the (recall) notices were not necessarily getting out to the mechanics,” Gulliver said.

He said the agency started reworking its procedures related to recalls about one year ago. They’re now putting those changes in place, including recall notices being sent directly to the mechanics who do the work.

“They go through those vehicles. They make sure that they’re safe before they’re back on the road,” Gulliver said.

Since 7NEWS first contacted MassDOT about the recalls two months ago, the agency said it has fixed about one-third of the vehicles.

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