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House Auto Safety Legislation Still Lacks Critical Provisions

Oct. 5, 2000

House Auto Safety Legislation Still Lacks Critical Provisions

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

While the House Commerce Committee today made some minor improvements in the T.R.E.A.D. bill (H.R. 5164), we are disappointed that the measure still undercuts present law by requiring secrecy instead of disclosure and by setting up hurdles that the agency must leap over before gathering information about safety defects. For instance, the agency must figure out how burdensome the reporting requirements are for automakers before imposing them.

While it is good that the committee added a provision requiring the government to develop a rollover testing standard, the committee didn’t go far enough. A critical section — the section dealing with criminal penalties — is still riddled with problems. It is essential that these are solved, because these provisions lie at the heart of what the bill is supposed to address — namely, that our laws do not deter manufacturers from knowingly permitting defective vehicles to remain on our roads. Nor do our laws deter automakers from failing to notify the government if they suspect a vehicle is defective. We need to protect consumers, and this bill just doesn’t do that.

The section dealing with criminal penalties mimics existing law and thus is unnecessary. But it’s also worse than present law because it adds a provision offering immunity to corporate officers who intentionally mislead the Secretary of Transportation about safety defects if they later recant. Further, the bill addresses only false statements, rather than the failure to recall.

Lawmakers have held lengthy hearings, gathered reams of evidence and threatened to get tough with automakers. But this bill is still easy on the industry and needs a lot more work.