Senate bill would allow feds to jail automakers who cover up defects

Senate bill would allow feds to jail automakers who cover up defects
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The federal government would be able to jail automakers who cover up car defects under a bill that is being introduced in the Senate following a series of major recalls. 

The measure, sponsored by Sens. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonLobbying world Has the Biden administration abandoned the idea of a moon base? Cuba readies for life without Castro MORE (D-Fla.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyHillicon Valley: Acting FTC chair blasts Supreme Court decision limiting agency consumer power | Police tech under scrutiny following Chicago shooting Every day should be Earth Day Senate Democrats ask regulator to look into driver-assist systems after deadly Tesla crash MORE (D-Mass.), would make failing to inform federal regulators about faulty auto parts a crime that is punishable by up to five years in prison. 


The measure would also eliminate a $35 million cap on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) ability to fine automakers who fail to comply with recall regulations and require the installation of a warning system that will warn drivers when their cars have been recalled by manufacturers. 

The sponsors of the legislation said it would prevent a reoccurrence of the problems that have led to widespread recalls at companies, such as General Motors and Japanese automotive parts company Takata. 

"If the recent rash of recalls tells us anything, it’s that we must do a much better job of protecting the driving public while holding automakers and regulators more accountable,” said Nelson, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.  

"As we try to find a way forward on a comprehensive highway bill, enacting these critical safety reforms should be a top priority," Nelson continued. 

Highway safety regulators in the Obama administration have come under fire for their oversight efforts after massive recalls at several auto companies that involved parts that were first found to be defective years ago. 

Lawmakers first took the highway safety agency to task in the spring of 2014 for its handling of recalls at General Motors that affected about 2 million vehicles. NHTSA officials were accused of failing to notice the trend of accidents involving GM's faulty ignition switch for several years before the recall was issued in February of that year.

The agency came under fire again for its handling of a recall of defective airbags that were manufactured by Takata. The recall has affected nearly 34 million cars. 

Takata had previously issued their recall of about 8 million cars with faulty airbags that could explode when were deployed in humid conditions. The defective Takata airbags were used in cars manufactured by companies, including Honda, Lexus and Chrysler.

The recall was later expanded, after federal regulators pressured Takata to expand its recall nationwide. 

The sponsors of the Senate legislation to overhaul the NHTSA's enforcement powers said the measure is an effort to bring more accountability to both the industry and regulators. 

"After several years of the largest and deadliest recalls in U.S. automotive history, the American people deserve comprehensive and sweeping auto safety reform legislation” Markey said in a statement. 

“This legislation will require automakers make public more information about accidents that could be caused by safety defects, upgrade public safety databases, and strengthen enforcement with transparency measures to provide early warnings about potentially deadly defects to the public," Markey continued. "It also would encourage state motor vehicle agencies to inform drivers when their cars have been recalled for safety defects and ensure that those cars get repaired." 

The Democratic senators said they are hoping to get their auto safety measure included in a highway funding bill that is expected to be considered by the Senate panel next week.