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Foxx urges Congress to add more auto safety reforms

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Friday he wants Congress to add new auto safety provisions to a six-year highway reauthorization bill under debate.

At a breakfast with reporters Friday, Foxx said said he is still urging Congress to grant the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sweeping authority to get unsafe vehicles off the road and force dealers to repair recalled used vehicles before selling them.

Senate Democrats proposed sweeping reforms and the Obama administration also sought major reforms last year, but the GOP controlled Senate Commerce Committee rejected most of the proposals.

Foxx said it was “better” that Congress was hiking the maximum recall fine to $70 million from the current $35 million, but said the administration still wants the maximum fine hiked to $300 million. Senate Democrats proposed lifting the cap.

“It’s not what we wanted, clearly — there’s a little Austin Powers element to it,” Foxx said. He has previously called the $35 million fine a “rounding error” for multi-billion-dollar global automakers and not an effective deterrent.

A compromise six-year highway bill omitted the administration’s request to get “imminent hazard” authority to get unsafe vehicles off the road if an automaker refused to move. Under current law, it requires a two-stage process that can take months and then requires a public hearing.

He said NHTSA came under harsh criticism for having too cozy a relationship with automakers

“Our recourse is to go to court and spend years trying to litigate the issue while dangerous stuff is on the street,” Foxx said. As a result, NHTSA has little choice but to seek settlements. “But if Congress wants us to have more teeth, give us the tools so that we can fight those battles directly.”

Federal law only requires recalled new cars to be repaired before being sold. The Detroit News reported this week that talks have been ongoing about adding used cars to the bill, but no agreement has been reached. “We think that’s a loophole that needs to be closed,” Foxx said.

Foxx declined to say if any of the safety provisions are potential “deal breakers” that would cause the administration to oppose the highway bill.