Rockefeller: GM Recall and NHTSA's Response are Deeply Frustrating and Outrageous

April 2, 2014

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C. -- Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller today issued prepared remarks for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation's Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance hearing titled, "Examining the GM Recall and NHTSA's Defect Investigation Process." Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

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.