WASHINGTON, D.C.— The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance will hold a hearing on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. titled, “Examining the GM Recall and NHTSA’s Defect Investigation Process,” chaired by Consumer Protection Subcommittee chair Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). This hearing will examine General Motors’ (GM) announcement in February of a safety recall affecting 1.6 million vehicles for defective ignition switches that have caused at least 12 deaths. In particular, the hearing will focus on GM’s decisions over a more than 10-year period to not issue a safety recall and will consider whether the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the capability, data, and resources to effectively monitor vehicle safety defects.
Please note the hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website. Refresh the Commerce Committee homepage 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start time to automatically begin streaming the webcast.
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVChairmanU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Four years ago, I held a full committee hearing in this same room to examine a safety problem in our cars. A global automaker had lost its focus on safety, and the agency charged with protecting the driving public had not taken action on its own. As a result, lives were lost. Since we are back to the same place we were in 2010, I will begin my remarks with the statement I used to open that committee hearing 4 years ago.
I said then:
At its core, today's hearing is about the millions of Americans who drive to work, drive to the grocery store, or carpool their kids to school and other activities, in every day in every way. It's about their safety and their security, and nothing is more important than that.
We're all here today because we know that something has gone terribly wrong. The system meant to safeguard against faulty vehicles has failed, and it needs to be fixed, and needs to be fixed right away.
How deeply frustrating and outrageous it is that nothing has changed in four years – so much so that I can literally reread my statement from that hearing word for word.
Back then, we were talking about sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. Today, we are here to talk about a dangerous defect in General Motors (GM) vehicles – a problem that has led to the tragic deaths of at least 13 people.
Once again, it seems an auto company that should be focused on building the safest fleet of vehicles disregarded a serious safety risk. And, once again, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found itself caught flat-footed, surprised by a recall that it, too, should have seen coming.
I want to thank Senator McCaskill for taking on this important issue and for calling today’s hearing. If we are committed to understanding the root cause of the defect, then we need to ask some vital questions during today’s hearing. We need to understand why it took a decade for General Motors to recall these cars. We also need to understand what NHTSA knew about the risks inherent in these cars, and what the agency should have known.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today. They will face hard questions, as they should.
As chair of the Commerce Committee, I am confident Senator McCaskill and all Members of this Committee want to be constructive today. If NHTSA conveys that it does not have the resources or capabilities to spot safety trends in the data the agency receives, Congress must provide NHTSA with those resources and capabilities. Congress has attempted to bolster NHTSA’s authority in the past 15 years, precisely to prevent these sorts of tragedies, it may be time to consider additional legislative approaches that could enable the agency to better achieve its critical mission of saving lives, preventing injuries and reducing vehicle-related crashes.
Witness Panel 1
Ms. Mary T. BarraChief Executive OfficerGeneral Motors Company
Witness Panel 2
Mr. David J. FriedmanActing AdministratorNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Mr. Calvin L. Scovel IIIInspector GeneralU.S. Department of Transportation