Auto Safety Legislation Should Include New Enforcement Powers for NHTSA, More Notification and Updated Safety Standards

Sept. 20, 2000

Auto Safety Legislation Should Include New Enforcement Powers for NHTSA, More Notification and Updated Safety Standards

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

Senators McCain and Hollings and their colleagues on the Commerce Committee are to be commended for tackling the Firestone tire recall issue head-on and quickly putting together legislation that will substantially strengthen the ability of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to prevent future highway tragedies like we are seeing with Firestone tires and Ford Explorers.

We urge all members of Congress to keep their eyes on the road and not veer from their responsibility to make our families safer by giving NHTSA the powers and incentives it needs to be the tough cop on the regulatory beat.

This case dramatically illustrates what can happen when government regulators are crippled by a lack of authority and resources or by attacks on health and safety regulations. We have been down that road, and now we need to reverse course.

To truly make a difference, any legislation must, at a minimum, include these provisions: (1) a significant increase in the civil penalties that automakers would face if they refuse to recall a defective or non-complying part or vehicle or if they withhold critical information; (2) criminal penalties, including prison terms, for cases in which deaths and/or injuries result from the failure of manufacturers to recall a defective or non-complying vehicle or product; (3) a requirement that NHTSA update its 32-year-old tire safety standard; (4) a requirement that automakers notify NHTSA when they recall defective vehicles in other countries or have warranty claims about defective components, injury lawsuits, consumer complaints or other early warning information about a potential defect.

We are, however, disappointed the bill does not require companies to test their products before certifying that they comply with federal motor vehicle safety standards.

Members of Congress should not go home to campaign for re-election until these vital safeguards have been enacted into law. Lives depend on it.

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