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Congress Plans Serious Update to Auto Safety Standards

Committees in both the House and the Senate have recently drafted legislation that aims to bring significant changes to auto safety in the U.S. The bill introduced last week by the Senate Commerce Committee is similar to one introduced two weeks ago by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bills seek to overhaul safety requirements for the auto industry and follow Toyota's recall of over 8 million vehicles worldwide.

The bills also follow Toyota's record-breaking fine imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Toyota was fined for not reporting its knowledge of gas-pedal defects in some of its vehicles as promptly as required to the NHTSA. Safety advocates say that the current maximum allowed penalty was not enough punishment for the automaker. Both the House and Senate bills eliminate a cap on penalties that can be imposed on automakers for failing to report defects quickly. The bills raise the per vehicle fine from $5,000 to $25,000. The bills will also give the NHTSA more funding and powers. For instance, if the NHTSA believes a vehicle poses an "immediate hazard of death or serious injury," the safety regulator will be able to order an immediate recall on that vehicle.

The bills would also require changes in order to bring safety regulations up to speed with modern technology. The Senate bill would require automakers to install event data recorders, or "black boxes," into vehicles in order to record information in the event of an auto accident. The black box would need to record vehicle data 60 seconds prior to and 15 seconds after a car crash. The bill would also require car companies to standardize how to bring a vehicle that operates with a keyless ignition system under control in an emergency.

The bill also would require autos to have a brake override system so that, if a car's gas pedal were to suddenly and unintentionally accelerate for a certain amount of time and be unresponsive to repeated braking, the safety feature would kick in and the brake could override the accelerator.

The Senate bill also includes whistleblower protections and ways to encourage car owners to contact the NHTSA to report car defects.

Related Resources:

  • Senate committee wants upgrade to auto safety laws (Detroit Free Press)

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