House lawmakers introduced a measure last month that, if passed, would require automakers to make more key disclosures to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and it would also increase the agency’s funding. This bill is the result of NHTSA being underfunded and short staffing for years. Resource shortages are to blame for its failure to catch defects that led to the General Motors recall of 2.6 million cars. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who is on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced H.R. 4364, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2014, which will require automakers to provide more information on fatal events related to their vehicles.
The legislation seeks appropriations for NHTSA’s vehicle safety programs, including authorizations for $200 million in 2015, $240 million in 2016, and $280 million in 2017. The bill would also raise NHTSA’s maximum civil penalties from $35 million to $200 million. Rep. Waxman hit the nail on the head when he said in a statement:
In the course of our committee’s investigation on the GM recall, we have found that GM knew about these problems for over a decade yet did nothing. I hope the committee takes up this bill quickly. On behalf of the victims and families who were hurt by this tragedy, we must improve the law to prevent these types of tragedies from occurring again.
The legislation also seeks to increase transparency by requiring NHTSA to provide public notice of all its inspections and investigations, according to the bill. The bill would also restrict certain vehicle safety employees from jumping to the private sector to work for the auto industry, it said. The House bill follows a similar measure in the Senate, introduced in March, to require auto manufacturers to publicly disclose information about fatal accidents. The Senate bill also would provide additional data to NHTSA.
Sens. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act, which would require NHTSA to make the information about fatal accidents accessible and searchable by the public. As we wrote last month, GM admitted to knowing about ignition switch defects in the Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions more than a decade before the recall but failed to investigate the defect. It appears that each day more damaging information comes out relating to GM’s safety problems. This Senate bill would ensure transparency in the future. Sen. Markey observed: “A massive information breakdown at NHTSA has led to deadly vehicle breakdowns on our roads.”
It’s been said that as many as 303 deaths have been linked to the fatal ignition switch defect. Actually, I believe the number is even higher. But GM will only admit to 13. The top flight consumer watchdog Center for Auto Safety has issued a report pegging the true number at more than 300. I don’t believe NHTSA has any idea how many deaths have occurred caused by the defeat. That’s just one indication of why the agency should be properly funded and staffed. Hopefully, NHTSA will be adequately funded and given the tools necessary for the agency to do its job. The American people should demand it.
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