Democrats Revive Push for Auto-Safety Bill

By Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal - November 24, 2010

U.S. Senate Democrats have revived talks to push for passage of an auto-safety bill designed to respond to concerns raised by the Toyota Motor Corp. recalls.

The Senate Commerce Committee passed the bill in June and a House panel passed a similar measure in May. But the bills stalled amid objections from industry officials that the proposals could increase costs and lead to more civil lawsuits.

Senate Commerce Committee staffers have been consulting with auto-industry lobbyists in recent weeks to resolve those concerns, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.), the panel's chairman, has indicated he might attempt to get the measure passed during the lame-duck session, according to industry lobbyists. A committee aide said the senator has made the bill a priority and is looking for ways to get the bill passed this year.

The industry has indicated it would support a scaled-back version of the proposed legislation.

"There is a push to get it done" this year, said Michael Stanton, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing Toyota, Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motors Co. and other major foreign car makers. "We're in negotiations with the committee."

The auto-safety proposal would have to vie with other, more-pressing matters facing the lame-duck Congress, including efforts to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and a measure to fund government operations.

The proposed legislation is aimed at dealing with issues raised by Toyota's recall of more than 8.5 million cars globally, starting in late 2009, for gas-pedal problems and other problems believed to have caused vehicles to suddenly accelerate.

The Rockefeller and Waxman bills would substantially boost fines for auto makers found to have misled safety regulators; require new technology in cars, such as "black boxes," which record crash data; and make public more vehicle-design information. The measures would also prohibit auto-safety regulators from immediately going to work as lobbyists after leaving the government.

Safety advocates have said those measures would force auto makers to be more forthright in reporting potential vehicle defects and would prevent crashes.

Auto makers have said the technology mandates are too prescriptive and have argued for the Transportation Department to show more flexibility in setting vehicle standards than the proposals now permit. They have also voiced concerns that proposed public-disclosure requirements could lead to the release of sensitive design information and prompt a flurry of consumer lawsuits.

Write to Josh Mitchell at

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