Dems introduce auto safety bill
Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced a new auto safety reform bill on Thursday that would require automakers to make public technical service bulletins, ban recalls that apply to only certain parts of the country, and require car companies to keep records about possible defects for 20 years.
The Vehicle Safety Improvement Act was introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking member of the committee and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. It would for most defects remove the $35 million cap on maximum fines. The Obama administration has proposed hiking it to $300 million.
It’s the latest in a series of auto safety measures introduced this year.
Others would impose new vehicle taxes to pay for added auto safety investigations or subject auto executives to lengthy prison terms for hiding auto safety defects.
While Congress has shown no interest in taking up legislation this year, the swell of bills may prompt legislators to take it up the issue next year when they have to extend highway funding again.
GM’s delayed recall of 2.6 million vehicles now linked to at least 19 deaths has prompted criticism of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Deputy Administrator David Friedman told a Senate committee this week that the agency needed more staffing but defended the agency’s performance.
“The GM ignition switch recall proved that our vehicle safety laws must be strengthened,” Schakowsky said. “This bill promotes common-sense steps to improve oversight and public access to information while doing more to hold automakers accountable for their actions — or failure to act.”
The new bill is aimed at preventing another GM-style recall problem.
It would end the practice of automakers limiting some recalls to certain parts of the country. Automakers routinely limit recalls involving rusting parts to “salt belt states” — to vehicles sold or currently registered in states that use lots of road salt in the winter. And it would bar dealers from selling unrepaired used vehicles. Federal law only requires dealers to fix new cars that been recalled.
Like other bills it would give NHTSA authority to expedite recalls for conditions that substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death if not remedied immediately. Currently, NHTSA must go through a cumbersome process that takes months — likely years — before it can seek a court order compelling a recall.
The law would require automakers to submit more information to NHTSA under its Early Warning Database program designed to defect deadly defects earlier.
Automaker trade groups didn’t comment on the bill, but in the past the have opposed laws that increase fines or expand criminal penalties, saying that auto fatalities are at record-low rates.