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2015 was a record-setting year for vehicle safety, and not in a good way

According to NHTSA head Mark Rosekind, 2015 set the record for having the highest number of recalled vehicles.

Automakers sold about 17.5 million cars in 2015. The number of vehicles recalled during that time was nearly triple that figure.

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Breaking records isn't always a wondrous thing. Land speed records? Awesome. Setting the record for being the year with the highest number of vehicle recalls? Opposite of awesome.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) chief Mark Rosekind, speaking to a group at the Washington, DC, Auto Show, pointed out that 51 million vehicles were recalled in 2015 over 868 separate recalls. This beats last year's adjusted estimate by a small margin. This doesn't mean that cars built in 2015 were exceptionally poor -- rather, automakers and regulators are getting better at catching issues.

Of course, none of this means anything if the owners themselves don't actually head to the dealership to get these problems fixed. That's why NHTSA is launching a new campaign called Safe Cars Save Lives. Its point is to convince owners to be better at checking for open recalls. The administration hopes that owners will do this twice a year, similar to checking and replacing smoke-detector batteries.

"Boosting repair rates requires effective communication at every level and every step of the way," said Rosekind in a statement. "Success is getting a 100 percent completion rate for every single recall." The last major study to look into completion rates, a 2012 NHTSA-sponsored study, found that roughly one-quarter of recalled cars never get repaired.

It's never been easier to check for an open recall. Owners can use a variety of methods -- online VIN lookups, Android and iOS apps -- to ensure they aren't driving a defective vehicle. Recalls are typically free to fix, with nothing more required of the owner than a trip to the dealership.