Rockefeller files bill to boost auto regulation

Greg Nash

The chairman of the Senate committee that oversees transportation issues is introducing legislation to boost the federal government’s oversight of auto manufacturers after a series of high-profile recalls of deadly vehicles involving General Motors. 

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who is retiring at the end of the year, said his measure would give more teeth to the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has said it was forced to rely on GM’s internal reporting of the effectiveness of its auto parts. 

“If NHTSA doesn’t have the resources or capabilities to protect the driving public and fulfill its mission, then Congress must step in and give this agency what it needs to meet these critically important goals,” Rockefeller said in a statement. 

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“For the past 15 years many of us have attempted to bolster NHTSA’s authority, precisely to better prevent tragedies like the deaths caused by GM’s faulty ignition switches,” he continued. “While we’ve made some progress, ultimately we’ve been blocked from fully providing NHTSA with the adequate resources and authorities it needs.” 

Rockefeller’s bill would increase the highway safety agency’s ability to unilaterally remove defective automobiles from the road and increase its funding for vehicle safety inspections. Rockefeller’s office said the increase in funding would be paid for by a safety fee that would be imposed on auto manufacturers. 

The highway safety agency came under fire earlier this year for its handling of GM’s recall of more than two million of its late model vehicles that were found to have a dangerous ignition switch flaw that caused cars to abruptly shut off or have their air bags become disabled. 

Lawmakers accused the agency of failing to fulfill its watchdog responsibilities and properly oversee the U.S. auto industry. 

Officials with the agency defended their handling of the recalls by pointing the finger at GM, which did not issue the warning about its vehicles until January of this year, despite the first accident that was linked to the faulty parts occurring in 2005. 

Rockefeller said Thursday that the GM situation has illustrated the need for his bill. 

“Everything we’ve learned in the past months through our committee investigation into GM has made it absolutely clear that it’s time to put our differences aside,” he said. “We’ve got to act now and support NHTSA if we’re going to minimize the chances of another heartbreaking tragedy.”