This year's congressional rush to pass a safety bill has ground to a halt now that the public outcry and media outrage over Toyota's myriad safety issues have subsided.
It's time to take a measured, analytical look at what the next safety requirements should be. As so often seems to happen in Washington, a flurry of headlines about multimillion-unit recalls, a gallery of photos showing mangled automobiles and a chorus of sound bites from plaintiffs' attorneys prompted a reaction in Congress before adequate proof had been presented.
Legislation was written early this year after recalls related to reports of unintended acceleration that was said to have caused as many as 89 deaths in the United States. Toyota also paid a fine of $16.4 million -- the maximum allowable -- for failing to inform the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about safety defects in a timely manner.
At the time, the core of the legislation seemed reasonable -- namely, requiring vehicles to have brake override systems and crash data recorders. The legislation also would have increased funding for NHTSA, allowing the safety agency to investigate safety problems more quickly and effectively, and raised maximum fines for automakers that drag their feet reporting defects. Those are two obvious needs.
Most automakers already have brake override systems or plans to install them. Among the few disagreements over the legislation was whether automakers should have to pay fees of up to $9 a vehicle to help finance NHTSA's oversight.
Now that the legislation most likely has stalled until the next Congress convenes in January, there will be time to resolve the outstanding issues without the pressure of an election.