WASHINGTON (Sept. 22, 2000)—A key senator conceded Sept. 20 that the congressional rush to do something in the wake of the Firestone-Ford troubles probably won´t cure all that ails current methods of detecting product safety defects.
At a meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee Sept. 20, Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said Congress probably will want to do a more thorough review of federal safety laws next year.
Nevertheless, Mr. McCain still urged his panel to approve a bill he introduced so that the legislative wheels can start turning.
It didn´t take much convincing.
On a unanimous voice vote, the committee approved a slightly revised version of the McCain bill and sent it to the full Senate for consideration. It contains, among other things, provisions to send corporate executives to prison for up to 15 years if they knowingly sell defective vehicles or vehicle components that kill people.
"Maybe this is an imperfect piece of legislation," Mr. McCain said, but "the continuing saga of Ford and Firestone" forces lawmakers to try and pass something before adjourning for the year.
Late Tuesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration updated its file of complaints about Firestone tires, especially those on Ford Explorers and other Ford Motor Co. light trucks.
NHTSA now says 101 deaths and more than 400 injuries can be linked to tire failures. The agency has collected more than 2,200 complaints about tread separations and other failures, primarily of 15-inch Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires from Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.
As this issue went to press Sept. 21, a House Commerce subcommittee was scheduled to vote on its own version of legislation aimed at improving disclosure of potential defects in vehicles and components. (See story on page 25.)
Members of the House Commerce Committee say they are in talks with Mr. McCain´s office to coordinate their efforts with his and reconcile the House and Senate bills.
Congress, however, is still a long way from agreeing on a single measure, passing it in both chambers and sending it to the White House. Lawmakers are trying to end the session by Oct. 6.
Besides creating criminal penalties, the McCain bill would:
*Increase civil penalties for companies that withhold safety information from federal regulators to a maximum of $15 million; there would be no limit on willful and intentional violations. The current maximum is $925,000.
*Authorize the federal government
to routinely collect warranty and lawsuit information from manufacturers, claims data from insurers and other safety-related information.
*Require federal officials to review and rewrite tire safety standards, most of which are 32 years old.
*Direct the Transportation Department to develop rules regarding tire labeling, with the goal of improving "public understanding of load limits and appropriate tire inflation levels," and to take "whatever additional action is appropriate" to make certain the public understands the importance to vehicle safety of maintaining proper tire inflation and observing load limits.
*Ask the president to negotiate an international treaty on the sharing of motor vehicle safety information.