Bill would raise cap on civil penalties for carmakers

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Lawmakers on Tuesday released a five-year, compromise highway bill that raises the cap on civil penalties for automakers that fail to disclose vehicle defects from $35 million to $105 million.

The legislation also allows for email notification of recalls. It bars rental car firms from leasing unrepaired recalled vehicles, and requires auto dealers to check for open recalls on a vehicle and notify the owner when it’s brought to them for service.

It also incorporates a two-year pilot program that would create a system for alerting consumers of vehicle recalls when they obtained or renewed their vehicle registration with their state.

The report comes on the same day that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx met in Washington with 15 major vehicle manufacturers, including Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

“With record recalls in the last several years and the growing threat of cybersecurity, Secretary Foxx asked that they come to Washington to discuss how they and the department can work together to improve vehicle safety and cybersecurity,” said Namrata Kolachalam, a spokewoman for Foxx.

Participants were asked to spend the next month working toward “concrete commitments” to industry-wide safety measures, before the group reconvenes in January.

The conference bill released Tuesday calls on the department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to assess potential actions for improving vehicle safety recall completion rates, and regularly report its findings to Congress.

It also requires an audit by the inspector general of the Department of Transportation on NHTSA’s management of vehicle safety recalls.

Lawmakers also want the department to study the feasibility of a technical system that would operate in each new car and alert the driver when the vehicle is subject to a recall.

The legislation falls short of several Obama administration proposals, such as funding for six years instead of five, and increasing the maximum civil penalty for failures to disclose defects to $300 million.

The Department of Transportation had also sought “imminent hazard authority” to expedite a recall requirement in the case of a substantial likelihood of death or serious injury to the public.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, sat on the House and Senate conference committee that negotiated the final highway bill, which includes a provision promoting the adoption of vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, allowing cars to wirelessly communicate with sensors or monitors on roads or bridges that can alert cars to traffic congestion or icy conditions.

Miller had sponsored the measure with Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, who introduced a similar provision in the Senate.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG and others, said it was still reviewing the legislation.

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