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House Committee Proposes Overhaul of Auto Safety Rules

April 30, 2010

WASHINGTON - The House Energy and Commerce Committee has drafted a legislative proposal aimed at tightening vehicle safety regulations and strengthening the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Associated Press reported. 

The proposed legislation, released April 29, would require new cars and trucks to carry event data recorders (black boxes) and brake override systems. In addition, automakers would be required to pay a $3 per-vehicle tax, which would increase to $9 per vehicle in the third year, to help fund the NHTSA. 

The draft legislation, called the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010, was released by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bobby Rush (R-Ill.). It also calls for eliminating the cap on civil penalties an automaker could face and allowing NHTSA to issue an immediate recall if the agency finds an "imminent hazard of death or serious injury." 

The proposal would remove the existing $16.4 million cap on civil penalties against automakers for safety law violations, and raise the potential fine for each violation to $25,000, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

Moreover, the legislation would require new safety standards related to vehicle electronics and measures to prevent pedals from becoming entrapped by floor mats. A new hotline for mechanics and others would be established to allow them to report safety defects anonymously. 

The proposal also seeks to require that U.S. auto executives certify the accuracy of information submitted to NHTSA in the course of a government investigation. If an executive is found to have submitted false information, that executive could face up to $250 million in fines. 

Waxman indicated the draft legislation was drawn up in response to public concerns arising from recent Toyota safety recalls and recalls from other manufacturers. The committee is expected to hold a hearing on the proposal May 6.

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