By on April 29, 2010

The Detroit Free Press got its hands on draft auto safety legislation drawn up by Senators Waxman and Rockefeller, and aimed at preventing another Toyota recall-style scandal. In addition to mandating brake override systems on all cars sold in the US, The Freep says the bill would require that

[NHTSA] come up with rules for space between the brake and accelerator pedals, gear shift designs and stop-start systems – all problems highlighted by the Toyota probe. Automakers would be required to build vehicles with event data recorders that could be easily read, a step Detroit automakers made several years ago but that Toyota and other foreign brands have resisted.

Despite the Freep’s attempt at making the bill sound like it’s only going to affect Toyota and other non-Detroit automakers, there is plenty in the proposed legislation that could hurt any automaker.

For one thing, the proposal would make delays to recalls a potential firm-killer. NHTSA had told Toyota that its 2.3m unit recall delay would have earned it a fine of $13.8b had there not been a cap at $16.4m, the amount Toyota paid. Not only would this new legislation remove that cap, but it would also raise the per-vehicle fine from $6,000 to $25,000. Plus,

NHTSA also could fine manufacturers for withholding information from the agency, with fines of $50,000 per day up to $250 million

Under this system, the Toyota recall delay could have earned Toyota a fine of $57.5b… or more. It’s too bad Senators Waxman and Rockefeller hadn’t thought of this earlier, or Toyota could have just paid off most of the cost of GM’s bailout. As it is, an American firm is just as likely as any other to be caught in the next safety scandal. And if this measure passes, the stakes will be high enough that the next big scandal could just put its  perpetrator out of business.

But the hits just keep coming:

Under the version proposed by Waxman, the U.S. Department of Transportation would have the power to collect a per-vehicle fee to fund NHTSA of $3 per vehicle, rising to $9 in its third year. The fee could not replace NHTSA’s current vehicle safety budget.

And there’s more from The AP on Waxman’s version of the bill, which:

would require a U.S. auto executive to certify the accuracy of information submitted to NHTSA in response to a government investigation. Any executive who provided false information could face up to $250 million in fines.

Waxmans version would also:

allow NHTSA to order an immediate recall if it finds an “imminent hazard of death or serious injury.”

More details as they become available. Meanwhile, Waxman is said to be holding a hearing next week on the legislation.

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29 Comments on “Draft Safety Legislation: $3-$9 New Car Sale Fee, Unlimited Defect Fines, Mandatory Pedal Distances, More...”

  • avatar

    Pedal spacing, shifter design, data recorders…Everybody knows Congress is just filled with automotive engineering expertise. I’m so relieved to know they’re applying all that omniscience to help save us from our own incompetence behind the wheel.

    • 0 avatar

      excellent point. i’d rather see more serious driver training material. or more serious penalties for distracted and/or unsafe driving. even better yet, minimum vehicle condition requirements. those are more common sense issues that also relate to public safety without trying to reinvent the wheel.

    • 0 avatar

      In this case, they’re right.

      Ergonomics are important in a two-ton sled travelling at 60mph, and as the Audi 5000 debacle showed us, pedal spacing does matter. Being able to shift out of gear or stop the car quickly is equally important. Leaving these things to engineers may not be a good idea, as engineers are very much subject to “I’m an engineer, so I know better” syndrome, and this kind of thing is not always an engineer’s forte.

      It also takes an outsider to shake an industry’s complacency. The politician might not know the exact science or engineering, but he/she can certain point out where it lacks reasonable-ness.

      Once again, I really do think Americans get the government they deserve. Other countries aren’t nearly so combative or outright hostile to public works, and their governments and initiatives are, in turn, nowhere near as dysfunctional or ineffective.

      Keep in mind that Ford’s Panther cars have the second-highest SUA rate behind the Lexus ES, and that these kinds of incidents are very heavily biased towards older drivers, but not present across all models bought by the elderly. That does point to an ergonomic issue.

      We’ve also gone over the driver training thing on this site countless times: you cannot, with any guarantee of certainty, train people to behave a given way in a panic situation: the Saylor accident involved a CHP officer who ostensibly receives far more training than any “normal” driver. Conditioning is effective, but conditioning requires the kind of regimen that’s practically applicable to professional drivers.

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    Huh Ed? Nowhere did Justin Hyde make a distinction between non-Detroit automakers (other than Toyota) and Detroit automakers except for this statement: “Automakers would be required to build vehicles with event data recorders that could be easily read, a step Detroit automakers made several years ago but that Toyota and other foreign brands have resisted.” Hyde clearly stated there was more in the legislation than just this requirement.

  • avatar

    They could save more lives by simply installing a cell phone jammer in every new car sold. Once it goes out of Park, the jammer kicks on. If you need to make a call, pulling over and putting your car in Park will deactivate the jammer and allow you to do your business, and keep your inattentive butt off the road.

    • 0 avatar

      Without doubt. But that makes too much sense to become law.

      Remember, we’re all paying for Ford’s lousy Explorer design with tire pressure monitors.

    • 0 avatar

      My car doesn’t have a “park” gear, only “1-6”. Would it then apply to the parking brake?

      Won’t this jam passengers cell phones as well?

      Would this jam bluetooth? What would keep me from sticking my cell out the window & using bluetooth?

    • 0 avatar

      It would be interesting to see:
      * How this would be implemented without gluing the windows shut
      * How you’d do this without causing all sorts of havoc among cell users elsewhere.

      Jammers are of two types: radio-opaque shielding, and active broadcasting. Neither option is a good idea in a car.

      Never mind that distracted drivers will find another way to be distracted. I think we’ve covered this, too: cell-phone bans don’t really “work”.

  • avatar

    So much for heel-and-toe?

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Wall Street steals trillions of dollars from the American taxpayer, Congress does nothing.

    A couple people die in car crashes, Congress takes action.

    We should all send our elected idiots the highest praise for standing up for our safety.

  • avatar

    The way government is run now we’ll likely see this legislation selectively applied on foreign automakers rather then companies the government has vested interest in.

    “Any executive who provided false information could face up to $250 million in fines.”

    Also, the wording of the AP article makes it sound like the executive will be fined rather then the company.

    • 0 avatar

      “Also, the wording of the AP article makes it sound like the executive will be fined rather then the company.”

      Well then, maybe congress should instead just dictate what the executive will be paid… oh wait!

    • 0 avatar

      I think that the quote was probably spot on. They already discussed the huge fines aimed at the corporation. Just as with earlier Sarbanes-Oxley fianancial and IT requirements, I think they are putting an individual personal burden on the top execs to tell the truth . . . or pay the price.

  • avatar

    “event data recorders that could be easily read”

    Why hello Big Brother, I figured since you already had access to my phones, my internet, my taxes…basically everything, I decided I might as well hand over my keys.

    Here you go. I’d really appreciate it if my information were to remain confidential and never used in a way that would be a gross violation of my privacy, but I trust you implicitly, so do what you think is best.

    • 0 avatar

      “I’d really appreciate it if my information were to remain confidential and never used in a way that would be a gross violation of my privacy…”

      I wouldn’t worry. Unless you step out of line like Joe the Plumber or Michael Steel (when he was running for the Senate in Maryland), your personal data and tax returns are safe, really.

  • avatar

    Here’s an angle I haven’t heard associated with sua. About 15 years ago, athletic footwear for causal use became bloated. Before that, running shoes were only as large as they needed to be, since smaller = lighter. Runners swelled with padding and all sorts of outriggers and sponsons and extensions from the soles. Every time I catch my feet on something, I curse this foppish footwear fad.

    I wonder how many cases of sua are due to fat footwear?

    • 0 avatar

      Wonder if we’ll hear of any SUA’s due to the Skecher Shape-Ups that are out now? If I were Skecher, I would put out a big disclaimer not to drive while wearing.

  • avatar

    This is the nanny state going into hyperdrive and creating hidden taxes. Cars already have thousands of dollars of gov’t required junk on them. I wonder how long before more than half the cost of the car is regulatory gizmos. Why not just take it to the next level and require all cars to have automatic lane retention and mandatory speed limit feedback. Just add sensors to cars and install transmitters in speed limit signs. We could do it in the name of recession stimulus. Think of all the jobs it would create. Add automatic stop technology and cars should pretty much drive themselves.

  • avatar

    I’m kind of torn on my opinion about data recorders. I was involved in a bad wreck in 2003, and the “black box” my 2000 GMC Sierra had in it proved my version of the accident, and more importantly, proved the kid in the Camaro, who caused the wreck, was lying, or mistaken about what happened. I saw the data print out, and there was a lot of info I didn’t expect to see on it. I ended up getting my deductible back after my insurance company finally settled with him. If only the repairs of my truck had gone as well as dealing with my insurance company, but my truck, even after about a dozen times back to the body shop, was never right, it had unending electrical and water leak issues, and I soon traded it in. I don’t drink/do drugs, so I don’t really mind them having them in there, as long as they (govt/insurance comp)can’t access it remotely, or during an inspection, without an injury accident. For example, they can’t dump the info, and cancel me because it says I went 100MPH last week, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      That is the slippery slope many are worried about.

    • 0 avatar

      If the data is used by private insurance companies (however long they last) in assigning responsibility to an accident, I’m ok with it. Even local police to see if laws were broken. But for State or federal officials to go on “fishing” expeditions is where the problem lies. I’m not sure you can come up with a way to “firewall” such data from other government agencies who would have no business accessing it.

    • 0 avatar

      If the data is used by private insurance companies (however long they last) in assigning responsibility to an accident, I’m ok with it.

      Oh, really? You trust insurance companies? Have you seen what private health insurers have been doing for the last several years?

      And local police? Really? Realy?!?!

      I will never understand this: we know corporations are opportunistic by their very nature, and local governments and police have a far greater tendency towards corruption than their state and federal equivalents. And yet we fear the federal governments?

      I’ve worked in both levels, and federal bureaucracy is nothing compared to the viper pit that is local government.

    • 0 avatar

      Local governments may cheat and fix tickets for favored people, but other than that their ambitions are decidedly less draconian than what the federalies want to do. For example, the locals may try to cheat you out of having the other party declared at fault in an accident. Ok, that’s bad. But that pales in comparison to some federal politician going “Alrighty then, since we have all data on how many miles a day/week/year people drive their cars (thanks to black boxes + RFID) lets put a per mile tax on them and oohh!, oohh!, lets take it out of their paycheck every week like the income tax since we also have access to their bank accounts. We’ll call it “pay (us) as you go.”

      No thanks. Besides, it’s a lot easier for me to throw the bums out in my local town or county than it is to get rid of a bad Senator or Congressman.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Look at the size of those potential “fines!” Exactly at what point do major players HQ’d overseas, say “it’s simply not worth it” and pull the plug on the US market?

    I’m talking Toyota (particularly – after having been the target of the “gummint” witch hunt and extortion with menaces) but also Honda, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Subaru.

    Let’s be honest. The US market USED to be the major market everyone wanted a piece of. Now, not so much; in a year or two or a decade or so, probably definitely not worth the trouble, at the rate we’re now going (both in terms of excessive interference – yes, interference – by the idjits in the District of Kontrol and the fact that these same idjits and those in New Yawk have baked total economic ruination into the cake for this country and much of the rest of the world)

    Put another way, if one misstep costs the value of the global company – in a nation where profits are increasingly difficult to obtain – and in a nation where regulations are completely different from the rest of the world (which is going uniform on these), at what point does the company in question simply SHUT DOWN US OPERATIONS and say “screw it”.

    That’d be one way for Government Motors to once again obtain 50% of the market. Effectively drive out all the competition.

    Cynical? Yep. Possible? You betcha.

    Wait until the unemployment stats come out post-pullout….. ouch.

    To avoid massive lawsuits by dealers, companies could use “partners” to supply cars on a short-term basis. For example, if Subaru chanced staying in the US market, Toyota could simply rebadge a few US built Legacy sedans and Outback wagons, as Toyota Carina Alltrak cars. Of course, no Toyota dealers would stay in business for long… and then later, Toyota (which owns part of Subaru) could help Subaru to close out US operations and pay off the (far fewer, smaller) Subaru dealers….

    This scenario is pretty much what Studebaker did when they shut down in the US and concentrated their auto production in Canada for 27 months, then pulled the plug on that, too.

    The other “unintended consequence” would be that once the “foreign” competition pulled out of the US market, suddenly Government Motors and Crapster would be able to turn massive profits (and Ford profits would increase) because 50% of the production capacity would be dis-used, shut down and abandoned (and imports ceased, as well). Naturally enough, this would entail MASSIVE price increases.

    New cars for the (remaining few) middle class would be a thing of the past.

  • avatar

    I might be in a minority, but I would not mind if the automatic transmission gear shift pattern would be standardized. Especially if it universally goes back to the straight line from ’80th and ’90th or a straight side pattern for faux manual mode, like current Altima.

  • avatar

    FWIW, the _manual_ transmission gear shift pattern has not been standardized either. The best examples can be seen with the Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac CTS. Reverse is located at the top left on six-cylinder cars, and on the top right for 8-cylinder cars.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Automatic transmission quadrants WERE “standardized” worldwide in the sense that they had to be legible for drivers, and “reverse” could not be next to any forward drive gear positions.

    Prior to 1965, if you look at cars, you’ll note that there were push-buttons on lots of Chrysler products and Ramblers, too, as well as some 1956 Packards and Clippers. Plenty of cars, including GM and Studebaker, had selector quadrants with Park-Neutral-Drive-Low-Reverse.

    These weren’t actually “outlawed” on January 1, 1965; but it was made known that no cars would be purchased by any government agencies if they didn’t meet ‘standards’.

    Note also that Chrysler products no longer had push-button automatics after the 1964 model-year.

    As for manual shifts, there are tell-tales on all shifter knobs or near the shifters, indicating the layout of the gears.

    It beggars belief that we have come to the point where some people believe that human beings are too stupid to be able to look, comprehend and understand simple driving layout variations. Have we become that stupid?

    Perhaps, looking at the way people now drive of late*, they’re right, sadly.

    * I was tail-gated so badly this morning in my classic car, that I was ready to pull over and call the police. Then it dawned on me – they wouldn’t do a thing about it, anyway. So, I simply drove 45 mph in the 55 zone, hoping the knuckle-dragging, sub-moronic imbecile would actually decide to go around. Nope. So I eased up to the speed limit and found a spot to safely overtake the clapped out pickup in front of me, then managed to get away from the situation nicely. BMW’s can “git & scoot”.

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