The first hearing on a wide-ranging auto safety bill took place in the House yesterday, and the typical battle lines formed. Republicans and industry representatives said that Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D., Calif., right) bill, the subject for debate, was just going too far.
Waxman’s bill would greatly empower the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to order recalls for safety defects and stop all manufacturing, sales, and marketing of vehicles that present an “imminent hazard to public safety.” David Strickland, NHTSA chief, said that such a law would bring the agency into line with other consumer protection agencies.
Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, took exception, suggesting the provision could well violate the Constitution’s due process clause. He also “blasted the proposed $250M maximum fine for auto executives” as unfair and excessive. A number of Republicans joined in the chorus.
And there was more carping about the bill’s proposal to uncap the fining limits (civil penalties) that NHTSA can impose. That is, the $16.4 million that Toyota paid recently might, under this bill, have gone as high as $69 billion.
Waxman’s bill (a similar proposal is under way in the Senate, authored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D., W. Va.) calls for brake override systems to stop runaway vehicles and black box data recorders to record information before and after a crash. McCurdy and company said they could support these provisions.
The bill would also beef up NHTSA’s enforcement budget by putting a $3 fee on all new cars sold, plus give consumers new rights to appeal rejection of their safety complaints.
I don’t think the Waxman bill will pass in anything like its present form, particularly the provision to remove all limits on fines. Is it another case of government encroachment on individual (i.e., manufacturer) liberties? Sure it is. But as the chairman of the subcommittee holding the hearing said, if stricter laws had been in place, you might not have had the recall of 9-million-plus Toyotas, and lives might have been saved.
After 20 years and more, are we finally going to get meaningful car safety legislation? Give us your thoughts.