Last year was a white-knuckle ride for the auto industry, as a string of recalls and controversies—General Motors ignition-switch malfunctions; Takata airbag failures, and attendant injuries and deaths; the Volkswagen emissions cheat—continued to plague vehicles.

In early 2016, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced a voluntary pact among 18 automakers and the government to begin sharing safety data—and to improve its usefulness—in an effort to spot and resolve defects before they endanger the public. But such strong talk is only as reliable as a manufacturer’s word. That’s why Consumer Reports’ advocates stay involved in the fight for safer vehicles. Here are highlights of our efforts over the past year.

Tougher sanctions. We repeatedly pushed Congress to hold automakers accountable for identifying defects and repairing them quickly. Our safety policy analyst, William Wallace, testified at a House of Representatives hearing. Ultimately, lawmakers tripled the maximum fine (to $105 million) for companies that fail to do so. The government also prohibited rental companies from renting out cars with unrepaired safety defects, a move we’ve long supported. We’ll keep calling on Congress to levy criminal penalties for executives who conceal faulty cars that injure or kill consumers.

More funding. With more than 100 million cars recalled since the start of 2014—many for defects more than a decade old—it’s clear that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs help. As of 2015, NHTSA had only about 50 full-time employees to identify defects in the 265 million vehicles on the road. Thanks in part to our advocacy, Congress authorized a modest increase to the agency’s chronically low funding, but this fight for funds will continue in 2016.

Safety improvements. Because of pressure from us and others, NHTSA proposed changes to its New Car Assessment Program, designed to show whether cars protect occupants during crashes. (We consider crash-test results when recommending vehicles.) Now crash-­avoidance technologies will be added to NHTSA’s testing. We’ll push for this change to be as strong as possible. Also read "Safety at Any Price" for more on how we’re urging carmakers to equip more cars with lifesaving features.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the April 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.