WASHINGTON -- New vehicles would be required to have a dashboard warning light to tell drivers that their vehicles have been recalled under a sweeping auto safety reform bill backed a trio of Democrat U.S. senators.
The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2015, introduced Thursday by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., would also give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power to ground vehicles with defects that present “a substantial likelihood of death or serious injury to the public.”
It would make it a crime for auto executives to knowingly conceal defects or corporate decisions that could injure or kill consumers, punishable by fines and up to five years in prison. And it would remove the $35 million cap on fines that can be imposed by NHTSA.
The bill is the most comprehensive auto safety reform measure proposed since the General Motors ignition switch defect crisis last year and incorporates many measures included in other bills introduced since then.
It was introduced by Nelson, ranking member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., who also sit on the committee. Its introduction comes as the Commerce Committee is scheduled to review a broader transportation funding bill authored by Republicans next week.
“If the recent rash of recalls tells us anything, it’s that we must do a much better job of protecting the driving public while holding automakers and regulators more accountable,” Nelson said in a statement. “As we try to find a way forward on a comprehensive highway bill, enacting these critical safety reforms should be a top priority.”
If signed into law, automakers would be required to designate a senior executive to sign off on the accuracy and completeness of all responses to NHTSA safety investigations.
Automakers would also be required to submit accident reports or other documentation that initially alerted them of a possible safety issue in early warning reports of possible vehicle defects that are submitted quarterly to NHTSA, and more information from those reports would be made public. Recall notifications would also have to be sent to customers via e-mail, in addition to first class mail.
“This critical and comprehensive measure will end the unacceptable and tragic record of shirking accountability and responsibility at NHTSA and the auto industry,” Blumenthal said in a statement.
New-car dealers would be required by law to check and fix safety defects when customers come in for service, and selling a used car with unrepaired recalls would be prohibited under the bill.
NHTSA would also see a substantial increase in funding for its defect investigation operation, from around $11 million to more than $30 million, in line with the Obama administration’s budget proposal.
Such a funding increase will likely run into stern opposition by Senate Republicans and even some Democrats.