Senate Committee Votes Down Several Auto Safety Reforms

Since automakers began recalling vehicles in force last year – punctuated by the millions of models covered by General Motors’ massive ignition switch defect and Takata’s explosive airbags – lawmakers have been trying to push through reforms that would make it more difficult to keep potentially deadly automobiles on the roadways. But proposed laws such as those that would impose fines on owners of vehicles who don’t follow-through with recall repairs or barring used car dealers from selling vehicles with unrepaired recalls likely won’t see the light of day after being voted down by a Senate committee last week.

The New York Times reports that a number of auto safety reforms – including one that would impose criminal penalties on auto executives who fail to disclose deadly defects – failed to make it to the latest version of the transportation bill, expected to be seen by the entire Senate floor later this month.

“Hiding these deadly defects with near impunity is what the industry has succeeded in doing,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, who introduced several provisions that were voted down.

While a majority of the reforms introduced as attachments to the larger bill went nowhere, some managed to make it through, including those that increase the maximum civil penalty imposed on automakers from $35 million to $70 million and one that would increase funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – so long as the agency implements recommendations recently set forth by the Transportation Department’s Inspector General.

Additionally, lawmakers were successful in adding a measure that would ban rental companies from handing out cars with unrepaired safety recalls to customers. That amendment is a stark contrast to a proposal introduced just two weeks ago that would have allowed companies to rent the potentially dangerous vehicles as long as they simply notified the renter that the repairs hadn’t been made.

Senator and committee chairman John Thune, of South Dakota, said a similar bill that would have banned used car dealers from selling recall vehicles failed because it would have had “unintended consequences” for the industry, the NYT reports.

Several national used car dealers – including CarMax – have come under scrutiny by safety advocates for allegedly continuing to sell vehicles with unrepaired recalls, while claiming the “Quality Certified” cars have undergone a “125+ point inspection.”

The defeat of many of the auto safety reform measures was credited to automakers’ lobbying teams, that helped circulate documents likening some of the bills to “criminalizing the business of manufacturing.”

Many of the legislators who introduced the reform bills showed their irritation at having their proposals struck down with little negotiation. In fact, some simply removed their bills from consideration before they could be heard in the committee.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who proposed two bills, said he would likely propose those that he removed during the committee discussion as amendments on the Senate floor, the NYT reports.

Although the committee’s dismissal of the measures isn’t a great sign for lawmakers and safety advocates, congressional staff tell the NYT that it is possible at least a handful of the defeated proposals could be resurrected before the bill makes it to the full Senate floor.

Senate Committee’s No Vote Incenses Lawmakers Seeking Auto Safety Reforms [The New York Times]