WASHINGTON—If the product-safety law Congress has just passed had been in place in the 1990s, someone at Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. probably would be facing jail time, according to Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La.
Mr. Tauzin, chairman of the consumer protection subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee, said he is less convinced that individuals at Ford Motor Co. would be subject to criminal charges, because there is "confusion about who knew what when."
But at Firestone's Decatur, Ill., plant, employees or executives "had to know that they were producing defective tires, and they allowed those tires to remain in the marketplace," he said.
Mr. Tauzin made the remarks after his panel acted last week. Members voted to make it a crime for company employees or executives to withhold safety information and mislead federal regulators.
Mr. Tauzin, responding to a hypothetical question about the bill, defended his effort to create criminal penalties for the automobile industry. If such penalties had been in place, they might have prevented the crashes, injuries and deaths attributed to Firestone tire failures, mostly on Ford Explorers, he said.
But the remarks also mean this: Even though executives of both Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford were criticized sharply in congressional hearings, key lawmakers such as Mr. Tauzin put most of the blame on Bridgestone/Firestone.
"I don't think those people deserve to run a tire company," he said.
The subcommittee investigation found that about one in 10 tires failed in-plant testing at Decatur in 1996, but Firestone did not order a recall.
Firestone executives testified at subcommittee hearings that the tests to which Mr. Tauzin referred were designed to see how much punishment tires could take before failing.