Toyota Recalls Sour Congress to Draft Auto Safety Bill

April 28, 2010

Senior congressional lawmakers, motivated by Toyota Motor Co.’s recalls, said on Tuesday they were preparing legislation to increase auto safety.

Legislation written by Henry Waxman and John Rockefeller, chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee respectively, was still being drafted and details were not disclosed.

A draft of the legislation is expected to be introduced before Waxman’s next hearing on Toyota, which is scheduled for May 6, two sources familiar with the timing of the proposal said.

One provision expected to be included would strengthen the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has come under scrutiny in ongoing congressional investigations of its handling of Toyota safety matters.

“Recent vehicle recalls underscore the need to ensure (NHTSA) has the resources, expertise, and authority it needs to protect consumers from vehicle safety defects,” Waxman said in a joint statement with Rockefeller.

Rockefeller said he and Waxman were working on the legislation, which should help accelerate a measure through Congress with the legislative calendar constrained due to the November congressional elections.

Much of what lawmakers and policymakers would like to see in a bill grew out of the Toyota investigation this year and has been discussed at hearings, news conferences and other public forums.

Beyond strengthening NHTSA, industry officials, safety advocates and others believe Congress should set uniform standards for vehicle electronic data recorders, mandate a system for ensuring that brakes always trump acceleration, and increase fines for violating safety regulations.

“The (fine) cap should be very high or it won’t make a difference,” said safety advocate Joan Claybrook, a former president of consumer group Public Citizen.

This month, Toyota agreed to pay a $16.4 million fine, the maximum allowed, in response to NHTSA allegations that the automaker delayed a January recall related to sticking gas pedals.

Toyota agreed to pay the fine but did not admit any wrongdoing.

The “sticky pedal” case was part of recalls covering more than 6.5 million vehicles in the United States since late 2009 for equipment and mechanical problems.

Toyota and NHTSA have been sharply criticized at hearings before two House committees, including Waxman’s and Rockefeller’s panel.

Weeks of scrutiny rocked Toyota’s reputation for quality and reliability and the NHTSA was accused of not being aggressive enough with Toyota.

Toyota has said it is making internal changes to ensure “an even higher standard” for safety and reliability, and transparency with regulators.

(Reporting by John Crawley)

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.