TECH: Forget Paper, Vehicle Recall Notices are Coming to Your Phone

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In our increasingly digital world, more and more of what lands in that mailbox at the end of the driveway is junk mail. No one sends a letter these days so it’s likely bills, unwanted flyers from the local grocery store, and postcards from politicians looking for your support.

There’s a good chance you’ve thrown out things that looked like junk but weren’t, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to make sure that vehicle recall notices aren’t one of those things.

Their latest proposal calls for sending digital notices like emails or text messages. The goal is to increase the rate of repairs by making sure everyone sees recalls rather than overlooking them as junk mail. Digital notices won’t replace good old-fashioned mail completely. You’ll still get a letter in your mailbox in addition to any digital notifications.

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Right now, automakers are required to send recall notices by first-class mail, so even if they have your email or your mobile number they can’t rely solely on those means to get in touch with you about a recall. That doesn’t mean they can’t call you in addition to sending a letter and many have started to do that already in an effort to increase recall rates. The new proposal would make this digital outreach a mandatory part of the process.

This digital outreach will also include social media campaigns, radio and television ads, and even over-the-air alerts sent directly to affected vehicles. This all comes as automakers deal with major recalls from Takata airbags to General Motors ignition switches. NHTSA wants unsafe vehicles fixed, not on the road where they could cause injuries and deaths.

Last year there were 51 million vehicle recalls. This puts 2015 in second place with 2014 holding the top spot with 64 million vehicle recalls. That’s an astounding number of cars and many of them are still on the roads without the recommended repairs.

The Government Accountability Office estimates recall rates as low as 55 percent and as high as 75 percent. That leaves millions of unrepaired vehicles still on the roads. NHTSA hopes that the addition of digital outreach methods will ensure more people know when their vehicles are under recall so they can take them in and get the necessary repairs.

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The proposal is part of a $305 billion highway bill that President Obama signed last December. It’s only a proposal, so for the time being, you’ll have to pay attention to that junk mail to make sure you don’t miss any recalls on your car.