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Obama Administration Pushing Auto Safety Bill

Posted in auto industry, Legal, Newsworthy, Recalls, Safety by Kurt Ernst | December 2nd, 2010 | 4 Responses |

Time is running out to pass the pending auto safety bill before lawmakers adjourn for the year. The auto safety bill is one of many “must pass” bills endorsed by the current administration, fearful of a pending Republican majority in the House of Representatives. The auto safety bill is endorsed by Senator Jay Rockefeller, and has received support from both the NHTSA and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry group that represents Toyota, GM, Ford Chrysler and eight other manufacturers.

The bill was drafted in the wake of the Toyota unintended acceleration hysteria, and includes provisions to increase penalties for automakers who delay recalls and stricter requirements for automotive safety features. If passed, the proposed bill would:

– Require that every new car contain an event data recorder, by the 2015 model year

– Require stickers on new cars, advising consumers how to file a complaint with the NHTSA

– Increase the maximum fines for non-compliant automakers, from $16.4 million to $200 million

– Require each automaker to have a “designated safety officer” to certify the accuracy of information submitted to NHTSA; non-compliance would result in fines of $5,000 per day, up to $5 million

– Give NHTSA authority to order vehicles deemed “imminent hazards” off the road

– Require automakers to adopt brake override systems and meet standards for pedal placement and push button ignition design

– Require “sound effects” so that blind pedestrians could hear approaching electric vehicles

– Require automakers to notify consumers of any software updates for their vehicles

– Bar NHTSA employees working with safety defects from working for an automaker for 2 years

Once passed, the bill would also increase funding and power of NHTSA. I’m all for added safety, but a few of the proposed revisions make me more than a little nervous. If the NHTSA has the authority to declare a current production car an “imminent hazard”, what’s stopping them from declaring any car without a black box, or enhanced stability control, as an “imminent hazard”? If we design pedals that eliminate confusion for the worst drivers among us, won’t that actually increase stopping distances for those of us proficient behind the wheel? If we don’t enforce the laws currently on the books, why would anyone think that drafting more laws seems like a good idea?

Source: Detroit News, via Auto Spies

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4 Responses

  1. It’s a fine line between protecting our personal safety versus handing over too much power to the powers that be; it’s very similar to the TSA issues. The black box is a good idea but I agree with you that it’s not an “imminent danger”. However, I do agree that there should be stricter rules are there appears to be a recall of some sorts just about every other day.

  2. Kurt Ernst says:

    Part of the reason for the elevated number of recalls is “Toyota paranoia”; after Toyota’s recent ass-kicking, no other company wants to get a $16.4 million fine.

    What we REALLY need is better driver training and more enforcement of the laws already on the books. That would increase safety better than anything else I can think of.

  3. Taylor says:

    It comes down to the simple fact that politicians believe that people are sheep that need to be herded.

    The unfortunate truth is, the quality of the driver and his/her actual knowledge of driving skills is inversely proportional to the number of safety features installed on a vehicle.

    Safety, in the long run, comes from knowledge. It comes from learning from mistakes made in the range of mishaps, minor to tragic, that can and will happen while piloting a vehicle down the road.

    Building a vehicle that handles as smooth at speed as it does at 5MPH, which provides no visceral feedback to the driver and requires no application of finesse from the driver accomplishes absolutely nothing in the way of promoting true automotive safety.

    I am old enough to remember when you could go to a dealer and purchase a “standard” vehicle. These were bare bones, manual trans, no power steering, crank windows, no radio and no A/C. I even learned to drive in a “standard” Dodge D50. I do not proclaim to be the best driver out there but the lessons learned in that truck have served me well across the spectrum of vehicles I have driven since.

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Taylor, I agree completely – cars have gotten so good that the driver is all but completely isolated from the driving experience. That’s the beauty of car’s like Mazda’s MX-5 Miata: it’s what a car used to be, and it’s involves the driver as much as he wants.

      Building cars for the lowest common denominator makes them less safe for me. A good example is the pedal assembly GM uses in the Cadillac SRX and the Buick LaCrosse, which has a ridiculously exaggerated offset between gas and brake. Sure this may help prevent pedal confusion for the worst 1% of drivers, but it also increases my stopping distances, since I can no long just sweep from gas to brake. My options are to left foot brake or to lift my right leg to brake – in either case, I’m probably losing a few tenths of a second in reaction time. At 70 miles per hour, each tenth of a second increases my stopping distance by just over 10 feet, so how does that me ME safer?