Contact: Jennifer Fuson
202-965-3500, ext. 8369
Consumers Need More Disclosure, New Safeguards to Improve Vehicle Safety
Increased penalties for safety violations will ensure manufacturers are held accountable
Washington, DC—Congress should increase civil penalties for safety violations, improve disclosure of “early warning” data, and mandate both “black box” event recorders and brake-override systems in all new vehicles, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) said today as the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on pending auto safety legislation.
The hearing comes after Toyota deliberately delayed alerting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about possible defects from their vehicles’ accelerator pedals and floor mats. NHTSA imposed a maximum $16.4 million fine over the sticking pedal defect – which could have been as much as $13.8 billion or $6,000 per car for the 2.3 million vehicles that were recalled – had the agency not been confined to a penalty cap.
Pending auto safety legislation should:
- Increase civil penalties. Currently, the limit on civil penalties is $16.4 million, not an adequate deterrent to report safety problems. AAJ is proposing there be no maximum limit on fines to ensure manufacturers promptly disclose safety problems, or risk hefty penalties. News reports indicate Toyota often dragged its feet over safety recalls here in the U.S. For example, in October 2004 Toyota issued a recall of 330,000 vehicles in Japan to replace the steering relay rods. A recall was not issued until a year later in the U.S. for the same defect, leaving unsafe automobiles on the road while Toyota continued to profit.
- Enhanced disclosure. Further public disclosure of “early warning” data that auto manufacturers submit to NHTSA quarterly will provide consumers with the ultimate weapon – the ability to know if there might be a problem with their vehicle or one they plan on purchasing.
- Require “black box” event recording on vehicles. New vehicles should be equipped with recorders to detect crash information, such as the ones required on airplanes. Data recorders help investigators identify exactly what happened when an accident occurred and more easily assess malfunctions and safety hazards.
- Require a brake-override standard. This would stop any vehicle once normal braking pressure is applied, even when the throttle is open.
“Time and again, we have seen auto manufacturers know of safety defects, yet delay or deny problems,” said AAJ President Anthony Tarricone. “While the government must do its part to provide strong standards and oversight, it is the manufacturer that must ultimately be held accountable when human lives are at risk.”
Last month, AAJ released a report entitled, “Driven to Safety: How Litigation Has Spurred Auto Safety Innovations,” which shows how since the 1960s, litigation has improved vehicle safety standards, revealed previously concealed defects and regulatory weaknesses, and deterred manufacturers from cutting corners on safety for the goal of greater profits. The report can be found at www.justice.org/autosafety.