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Auto Safety Legislation Gets New Legs in Senate

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Think John Crawley reports for Reuters:

Safety legislation born out of the Toyota Motor Corp recall saga and opposed by automakers will be revived in the Senate this year, the chairman of the Commerce Committee said on Tuesday.

John Rockefeller of West Virginia said after a budget hearing that he was determined to see the measure through after it had faded from the agenda amid the political upheaval that consumed the chamber last year.

Its not surprising that automakers are against this legislation. One of its principle tenets is that it would allow consumers a legal avenue to challenge regulatory denials of their requests to investigate alleged defects. It would also provide regulators with the ability to force recalls, raise the maximum amount of possible safety fines, and increase liability for corporate executives in safety cases.

David Sheperdson, of the Detroit News Washington Bureau, brings us news that these are not the only safety issues in Rockefeller’s sights:

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing this afternoon on the Transportation Department’s six-year $556 billion budget proposal, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., praised a boost in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s vehicle safety budget.

‘More than 33,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2009. While this number has been steadily declining, it is still unacceptably high,’ said Rockefeller, the committee’s chairman. ‘We can and must do more to reduce the loss of life on our nation’s roads.’

Rockefeller led unsuccessful efforts to win Senate approval in 2010 to reform the nation’s auto safety laws. He said he hopes to include auto safety reforms as part of the transportation reauthorization bill, including measures to crack down on distracted driving.

Sounds like quite the comprehensive package, doesn’t it? It will be interesting to see what final shape the legislation takes, and its future impact on reducing auto accidents. Of course, there is a good chance it either will not pass the Senate or will do so in an altered form.

With the Senate currently controlled by the more business-friendly Republicans, it will face a much rougher road than in the House of Representatives, especially with automakers pleading that it would slow sales, confuse production, and increase their costs.

With 20 million vehicles recalled over the course of 2010 — the highest annual number ever, with the exception of 2004 — it’s easy to understand the level of concern here. Many factors are contributing to making this a large public debate — the rental car “loophole,” the numerous bus tragedies, and the sharp increase in distracted drivers are all news items bringing the overall issue to center stage.

Image by Gene Hunt, used under its Creative Commons license.


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