Democrats reintroduce auto safety reform bill

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A group of House Democrats is reintroducing sweeping auto safety reform legislation a year after General Motors Co. recalled 2.6 million vehicles now linked to at least 57 deaths.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., is reintroducing a measure that would dramatically hike the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s auto safety budget by at least $100 million by 2017 by imposing a $3 fee on all new car sales that would rise to $9 by 2018. The bill is backed by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and at least four other Democrats, her office said.

Despite withering criticism of NHTSA and congressional hearings into GM’s delayed recall, as well another round of hearings into millions of defective Takata air bags, the prospects for sweeping auto safety reform legislation are hazy. Many auto industry officials think it is unlikely major reforms are approved. In 2010, after harsh criticism of NHTSA after Toyota Motor Corp. recalled millions of vehicles, Congress considered but never voted on major auto safety legislation.

The bill would require auto dealers to repair recalled used cars before selling them and require disclosure of recalls and the status to prospective buyers. It would also give NHTSA sweeping new authority to get unsafe vehicles off the road immediately for “any condition that substantially increases the likelihood of serious injury or death if not remedied immediately.”

The bill would require NHTSA to create new regulations, including new standards for passenger motor vehicles to reduce the number of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities. NHTSA would also have to research the development of safety standards to improve the crash worthiness and survivability for back-seat passengers.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group representing major automakers, didn’t immediately comment.

The measure would bar automakers from conducting regional recalls limited to high humidity areas or places where road salt is used.

The bill requires that a remedy for a defective vehicle be provided without charge, regardless of when the motor vehicle or replacement equipment was purchased. Under the current law, remedies are not required without charge for vehicles or equipment purchased more than 10 years before a recall.

On Thursday, a Senate panel approved a bill to allow for additional compensation for auto sector whistleblowers, but Republicans have shown no interest in taking up broader auto safety legislation. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has held hearings and met with automakers and others, but hasn’t proposed any reforms.

The Democrats’ bill would eliminate the $35 million cap on fines for most delayed auto safety recalls. The Obama administration has called for hiking it to $300 million per delay.