WASHINGTON (Oct. 16, 2000)—The Senate has passed legislation to strengthen the power of federal regulators in the case of tire and auto safety defects, one day after the House approved the same bill.
Senators passed the Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act on a motion and without a recorded vote, after a more stringent bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., became hopelessly mired in partisan infighting. President Clinton is expected to sign the bill, which was inspired by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc´s recall of 6.5 million ATX and Wilderness AT tires.
Among other things, the bill:
*Orders the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to rewrite the 32-year-old federal safety standard for tires;
*Requires establishment of an "early warning" system in which tire and auto makers inform NHTSA of unusual numbers of product safety complaints; *Increases the maximum penalty for a safety violation to $15 million from the current $925,000 and establishes a 15-year maximum prison sentence for executives who withhold information about safety defects that cause death or serious injury.
It also allows a "safe harbor" exempting corporate whistleblowers from punishment if they reveal the information within a "reasonable amount of time" and didn´t initially realize the defect was deadly.
Donald B. Shea, president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, called the TREAD Act "a solid piece of legislation" and vowed to work with NHTSA on the early warning rule and the tire standard revisions.