The Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Program (MVSWP) provides financial rewards to those who expose motor vehicle safety violations.
Modeled after the SEC Whistleblower Program, the MVSWP was passed to “incentivize a motor vehicle manufacturer, part supplier, or dealership employee or contractor to voluntarily provide the Secretary of Transportation (Secretary) information relating to any motor vehicle defect, noncompliance, or any violation of any notification or reporting requirement that is likely to cause unreasonable risk of death or serious physical injury.” S. Rep. 114-13, p. 1.
The MVSWP is run by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and rewards individuals who expose vehicle safety violations that would likely lead to serious injuries or deaths. A whistleblower can receive between 10% and 30% of any penalty over $1 million that the NHTSA imposes on violators. Examples of safety violations are faulty airbags, defective brakes and explosive engines.
In November 2021, the NHTSA announced that it is paying the maximum 30% award (or $24.3 million) to a former Hyundai safety engineer who reported that Hyundai was failing to address a design flaw in its Theta II engines. The flaw made the engines prone to seize up or catch on fire. The NHTSA found that Hyundai and its Kia subsidiary delayed recalling the vehicles, and that they provided inaccurate information about the problems. In November 2020, the NHTSA issued consent orders with Hyundai and Kia. The combined penalties in the consent orders amounted to $210 million, of which $81 million was paid to the United States government. The automakers also agreed to implement new safety procedures.
The MVSWP was passed in 2015 and can be found at 49 U.S.C. § 30172. Some of its key features include:
- Applicable to all types of vehicle-safety violations
- Anti-retaliation protection for whistleblowers
- Whistleblower may proceed anonymously and have their identities kept confidential
- Available to all insiders — eligible whistleblowers include any employee or contractor of a motor
vehicle manufacturer, part supplier, or dealership
- Awards range from 10% to 30% of any amounts over $1,000,000 the Department of Transportation (DOT) or the Department of Justice (DOJ) recovers based on whistleblower information
- Awards are based on several factors, including the significance of a whistleblower’s information, the extent of his or her assistance, and whether the whistleblower reported the information internally
- Whistleblowers do not have to be a U.S. citizen or resident, and reported violations do not have to occur in the U.S.
- Whistleblowers may be from any country and report on violations that occur outside of the U.S. so long as some of the vehicles (or components) at issue are sold or distributed in the U.S.