WASHINGTON, DC -- Automotive industry executives who cover up or conceal the death and injury risks of defective vehicles or parts could face up five years in prison, under sweeping auto safety legislation filed in the Senate late today.
The measure, sponsored by three leading Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee, comes in advance of a mark-up the panel will hold next week on a broader Republican transportation bill that includes highway, rail and port related provisions.
In addition to the prospect of executives facing jail time, the bill also removes a $35 million cap on civil fines federal regulators could impose on automakers for safety violations, including failing to report dangerous defects.
The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), was in-part prompted by the committee's on-going investigations into faulty General Motors (GM) ignition switches and defective Takata airbags. The bill contains a number of policy recommendations laid out two weeks ago in a minority staff report on Takata safety lapses.
“If the recent rash of recalls tells us anything, it’s that we must do a much better job of protecting the driving public while holding automakers and regulators more accountable,” said Nelson, the panel’s ranking member. "As we try to find a way forward on a comprehensive highway bill, enacting these critical safety reforms should be a top priority."
“This critical and comprehensive measure will end the unacceptable and tragic record of shirking accountability and responsibility at NHTSA and the auto industry,” said Blumenthal. “This legislation will not only hold auto companies accountable for failing to disclose the deadly and dangerous defects of vehicles, but it will require new, life-saving technology to be implemented in our cars to keep drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe from preventable tragedies. Lessons must be learned from the GM ignition switch cover-up and the catastrophic Takata airbag failures to prevent similar safety lapses from harming and killing Americans in the future.”
"After several years of the largest and deadliest recalls in U.S. automotive history, the American people deserve comprehensive and sweeping auto safety reform legislation” said Markey. “This legislation will require automakers make public more information about accidents that could be caused by safety defects, upgrade public safety databases, and strengthen enforcement with transparency measures to provide early warnings about potentially deadly defects to the public. It also would encourage state motor vehicle agencies to inform drivers when their cars have been recalled for safety defects and ensure that those cars get repaired. I thank Ranking Member Nelson and Senator Blumenthal for their partnership on this important legislation and look forward to working with all of my colleagues to get this bill enacted."
The legislation also includes consumer protection provisions that, among other things, require:
- all new vehicles to have a warning system that notifies drivers that their car is subject to a safety recall;
- authorized dealers to check for and fix safety defects subject to open recalls when consumers take their cars in for routine maintenance;
- used car dealers to fix safety defects in vehicles before selling them to consumers;
- an elimination of the 10-year limitation on auto and parts manufacturers to fix defects at no charge to consumers; and,
- the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop collision avoidance standards for heavy-duty trucks.
To date, faulty GM ignition switches and defective Takata airbags have been linked to at least 129 deaths and hundreds of injuries.