WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A record 63.9 million vehicles were recalled in the United States last year, the U.S. auto safety regulator said on Thursday, led by high-profile recalls of General Motors Co ignition switches and Takata Corp air bags.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said more than twice as many vehicles were recalled in 2014 than the previous record of 30.8 million in 2004.
GM's recall of 2.6 million cars beginning in February 2014 to replace faulty ignition switches put the company under a harsh spotlight and may have prompted other automakers to be more vigilant about recalls.
Several investigations of GM (GM.N), including the company's own, concluded the automaker should have recalled the cars years before. At least 52 people have died in accidents after the ignition switch unexpectedly turned off the engine, disabling the air bags, power steering and power brakes.
Millions of vehicles were recalled last year because air bags made by Japanese supplier Takata 7312.T can explode with too much force, spraying metal fragments inside the car. The air bags have been linked to five deaths in the United States, all in cars made by Honda Motor Co Ltd. (7267.T)
NHTSA itself has come under fire from members of Congress and safety advocates who say the agency has failed to spot auto defects and not done enough to crack down on automakers.
President Barack Obama, in his 2016 budget, asked Congress to boost NHTSA funding by 9 percent to $908 million, with much of the increase going towards hiring more investigators and developing better data mining tools to uncover defects.
Obama has also asked to increase the maximum fine NHTSA can impose on automakers to $300 million from the current $35 million.
Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Eric Walsh