WASHINGTON (May 7, 2010)—Auto industry spokesmen and auto safety advocates agreed on some points and diverged on many others in their testimony before a House subcommittee on the draft Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010.
“This may be the most important vehicle safety bill in a generation,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and chief sponsor of the bill.
Among other things, the bill lifts the cap on civil penalties against auto and tire makers for violating vehicle safety rules; requires data recorders on new vehicles to help investigators reconstruct accidents; requires greater public availability of “early warning” data submitted by manufacturers regarding possible safety defects; allows consumers to sue the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration if the agency rejects their defect petitions; and increases funding for NHTSA, partly through a new $9 “safety user fee.”
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it supported the goals of the legislation, but asked subcommittee members to reconsider some provisions.
For instance, airline data recorders cost on the average about $22,000, so vehicle data recorders almost certainly would add thousands of dollars to the cost of a car, said Dave McCurdy, Alliance president and CEO.
But Joan Claybrook, president emeritus of Public Citizen and a former NHTSA administrator, praised the bill's provisions, including lifting the ceiling on civil penalties. The $16.4 million penalty against Toyota Motor Corp. for accelerator pedal problems, Claybrook said, was double the total amount of monetary fines the agency imposed between 1966 and 2009.
One point both sides agreed on was greater funding for NHTSA programs, particularly the National Automobile Sampling System (NASS) which collects statistically valid, nationally representative data on vehicle accidents.