NHTSA expands investigation of possible carbon monoxide leaks in Ford Explorers
A major development resulting from an ongoing CBS News investigation could affect more than one million Ford Explorer owners.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the number of complaints and injuries related to possible carbon monoxide leaks is much higher than previously thought.
CBS News' Kris Van Cleave has new details of the government's expanding investigation.
Thousands of complaints have now been filed with NHTSA and Ford about possible carbon monoxide leaks in Ford Explorers, prompting NHTSA to expand its probe to include 2016 and 2017 models.
The city of Austin released a memo Friday, obtained by CBS News, that reads in part: "The number and severity of cases has reached a critical mass. The safety of our police officers and staff is our chief concern." "We will begin removing from service all Ford Explorers and Utility Interceptors used by the City of Austin."
A 2016 Henderson, Louisiana police Explorer was badly damaged in a crash after officers say its driver passed out from carbon monoxide exposure in April.
"When she was treated at the hospital, we had requested testing for carbon monoxide and her levels came out near lethal," said Henderson Police Department Captain James Thibodeaux.
On Thursday, that officer filed suit against Ford and many more owners of Explorers model years 2011 through 2017 are reporting carbon monoxide appears to be seeping into their vehicles.
NHTSA now says more than 2,700 complaints have been lodged against the automaker and 41 people have reported injuries.
Newport Beach, California, officer Brian McDowell crashed into a tree in 2015 after passing out behind the wheel.
"I just went out," McDowell said.
Sergeant Zachary LaHood's dashcam was rolling as he called for help. LaHood was the first of 20 Austin, Texas police officers to be treated for carbon monoxide exposure.
In 2016, 48 percent of law enforcement vehicles were Ford Explorers. Departments across the country have added carbon monoxide detectors.
The Kansas Highway Patrol had several go off, but it's not just police vehicles.
The bulk of the complaints come from regular Ford owners – like Stacie Jones.
She traded her 2014 Ford Explorer in for a 2017, but says the problem didn't go away.
"It's frustrating because at this point, I don't know what I am going to do," Jones said.
NHTSA contends it doesn't have any proof the injuries reported were caused by carbon monoxide, though investigators say levels of that gas may be elevated during certain driving scenarios. In a statement to CBS News, Ford said, "Safety is our top priority. A dedicated Ford team is working with police customers, police equipment installers, Police Advisory Board members and NHTSA to investigate reported issues and solve them. Customers with concerns about Explorers and Police Interceptor Utilities can call our dedicated hotline at 888-260-5575 or visit their local Ford dealership.
Feds Expand Probe Into Possible Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Ford SUVs
by Gabe Gutierrez
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it’s expanding its investigation into reports of carbon monoxide leaks in some Ford SUVs.
The agency said it is now looking into 791 complaints of Ford Explorers model years 2011-2017. That’s up from the initial 154 complaints regulators began investigating a year ago in model years 2011-2015. A report from the NHTSA says an additional 2,051 complaints were lodged with the manufacturer. There have been 41 reported injuries, the NHTSA said.
The potential carbon monoxide exposure in the SUVs has drawn pointed scrutiny in Austin, Texas, where the police department has already pulled more than 60 of its vehicles from the streets. A modified version of the Ford Explorer, called a Police Interceptor Vehicle, is popular with law enforcement agencies across the country.
Are Police Vehicles Making Officers Sick? 1:44
Those vehicles make up 61 percent of Austin’s patrol fleet. City officials are now considering whether to remove the 400 SUVs due to reports of dozens of officers becoming sick.
"Safety is our top priority,” a Ford spokesperson said in a written statement. “A dedicated Ford team is working with police customers, police equipment installers, Police Advisory Board members and NHTSA to investigate reported issues and solve them. Customers with concerns about Explorers and Police Interceptor Utilities can call our dedicated hotline at 888-260-5575 or visit their local Ford dealership."
Austin Police Sergeant Zachary LaHood has been among those pushing the department to take action.
In March, dashcam video captured the moments LaHood realized something was wrong in his patrol vehicle. He asked another officer to check out the SUV.
"I almost hit the road twice and I think I'm going to get sick,” LaHood is heard saying on the video. "I just need fresh air."
LaHood is now on medical leave — and he’s suing Ford, alleging he was left with long-term neurological problems after being poisoned by carbon monoxide.
"I never thought my car would take me down,” LaHood told NBC affiliate KXAN.
The head of Austin’s police union said dozens of officers have complained of similar symptoms since March.
“It's very disturbing,” said Ken Casaday, the president of the Austin Police Association. “Especially when you're sitting next to people and talking to them about neurological damage.”
In a separate case in California, dashcam video from 2015 showed a police officer who passed out behind the wheel crashing into a tree. That civil case is still pending.
But federal regulators are now looking into whether the issues in Austin are “…related to a potential safety defect.” Representatives from the agency were in Texas this week to inspect the department’s vehicles. Ford engineers were there as well.
Austin police vehicles investigated for carbon monoxide poisoning, July 28, 2017.
According to a NHTSA report released Thursday: “To date, no substantive data or actual evidence…has been obtained supporting a claim that any of the alleged injury or crash allegations were the result of carbon monoxide poisoning…however, that CO levels may be elevated in certain driving scenarios, although the significance and effect of those levels remains under evaluation…”
"We have investigated and not found any carbon monoxide issue resulting from the design of our Police Interceptor Utility Vehicles,” Ford has said in a previous statement. “We know police modify these vehicles, which can contribute to exhaust-related issues. We have provided instructions to help seal these modifications and are ready to inspect any vehicles with this concern."
In addition to the more than 60 SUVs Austin PD parked over the concerns, the department has installed carbon monoxide detectors in the rest. “We clearly are here to protect and serve but right now is that we are very, very concerned for the safety and well-being of our officers,” said Troy Gay, Austin’s assistant police chief