WASHINGTON -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would be able to order automakers to cease the sale of vehicles with dangerous safety defects under the Obama administration’s multiyear surface transportation funding bill sent to congress today.
Under "imminent hazard authority,” NHTSA would have broad power to ground vehicles “in cases where there is an imminent risk of injury or death,” according to a summary released today of U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s six-year, $478 billion transportation bill.
NHTSA would be able to use the authority prior to determining that a safety defect exists and without input from manufacturers -- as required under current law, according to the summary.
The new authority, an updated version of a Transportation Department proposal made last year, is one of several reforms intended to bolster NHTSA’s ability to police auto safety.
NHTSA’s ability to identify and respond to deadly defects was called into question last year after controversies involving General Motors’ ignition switches and Takata airbags expanded from long-simmering issues into massive recalls tied to dozens of deaths and injuries. The bill would nearly triple the funding and double the staff of NHTSA’s defect investigations office, and toughen the penalties NHTSA can levy against companies that break the law, raising NHTSA’s maximum fine from $35 million to $300 million.
A major challenge in the recall system is notifying owners of used vehicles who service their cars at independent repair shops about recalls. To fix this, the bill would establish a pilot grant program where NHTSA would work with state motor-vehicle departments to assess whether it’s possible to inform drivers of outstanding recalls at the time vehicles are registered.
Under Foxx’s bill, all used cars and rental cars must have open recalls repaired before they can be sold or rented. Current law requires only that new cars have all recall repairs completed prior to sale.
New-car dealers would also be required to check for open recalls each time a vehicle from that manufacturer comes into the dealership for service. Most manufacturers already require their dealers to do so, but the checks are not required by law.
The bill is landing on Capitol Hill as funding for the nation’s highways, bridges, and other transportation systems is set to run dry in late May.