WASHINGTONHouse Democrats have introduced another bill to toughen federal auto safety laws after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) came under more criticism by U.S. lawmakers recently for its handling of the General Motors Co. ignition switch recalls.
The billcalled the Vehicle Safety Improvement Actwould expand public access to vehicle defect and safety information, allow NHTSA to levy stiffer fines and other penalties on auto makers that violate safety laws, and require auto makers to explain potential causes of fatal crashes in communications to NHTSA.
The bill was introduced Sept. 18 by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee after the committee's Republican leadership released a scathing report on NHTSA's role in the GM ignition switch recalls on Sept. 16.
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the top-ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, co-sponsored the bill, according to a joint statement from the lawmakers.
It's the latest signal of the growing support on Capitol Hill to revamp NHTSA and to bolster auto safety laws in the wake of GM's ignition switch crisis.
The GM ignition switch recall proved that our vehicle safety laws must be strengthened, Ms. Schak-owsky said in a statement. This bill promotes common-sense steps to improve oversight and public access to information while doing more to hold auto makers accountable for their actionsor failure to act.
Under the bill, NHTSA would be required to post technical service bulletins about safety defects on its website. All early warning report information not exempted by the Freedom of Information Act would have to be disclosed to the public. Publicly available summaries about NHTSA inquiries to auto makers seeking information on fatal accidents would also have to be published every six months.
The bill would require auto makers to explain to NHTSA the potential cause of fatal accidents and require auto makers to retain records on possible defects for 20 years, compared with five years currently.
Under the bill, NHTSA would also receive greater power to penalize auto makers with bigger civil fines while the cap on penalties would be eliminated in most cases for related violations of federal auto safety laws.
The Vehicle Safety Improvement Act provides a meaningful response to this year's motor vehicle recalls, which exposed far too many shortcomings in federal oversight of the safety of our roads, Mr. Waxman said in a statement. The bill empowers consumers and holds auto manufacturers accountable for illegal behavior that all too often leads to tragedy.
The Vehicle Safety Improvement Act builds on a similar proposal made by Mr. Waxman in April, one of several bills to be introduced this year following GM's ignition switch recalls.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced a bill last month that would double NHTSA's funding, remove the $35 million cap on civil penalties for companies that violate auto safety laws, and make auto executives face life in prison for delaying recalls that result in deaths.
A May proposal by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Mass., Edward Mar-key, D-Mass. and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., also sought to eliminate the $35 million fine cap. A bill introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in June would give NHTSA more funding and the power to order dangerous vehicles off the road.
In April, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx asked Congress to hike the maximum civil penalty for a violation of U.S. auto safety laws more than eightfold to $300 million to push auto makers to more quickly issue safety recalls.
This report appeared in Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.