Industry, Republicans Attack Proposed Auto Safety Legislation, NHTSA Plays It Cool

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
industry republicans attack proposed auto safety legislation nhtsa plays it cool

Due to scheduling conflicts with a certain island nation’s democratic rituals, CSPAN didn’t have a channel to spare for today’s auto safety legislation hearing before the the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. Which means your faithful blogger is at the mercy of the mainstream media’s digestive process in this matter. Regardless, it seems clear by now that the legislation has driven the industry back to the Republican bosom, after a period of post-bailout estrangement. These newly-re-allied forces collectively raised concerns about a number of key proposals presented by Rep Henry Waxman’s Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010, including the un-capping NHTSA fines, privacy issues relating to “black box” event data recorders, new car sale vehicle fees, pedal clearance standards, and increased regulation of an industry with state-owned competitors.

It might, however, be going too far to describe automakers and Republicans as a truly united front. The automakers, speaking through Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers president Dave McCurdy and Alliance of International Automobile Manufacturers president Mike Stanton, focused their opposition on the proposed un-capping of NHTSA’s power to fine automakers for delaying recalls. In fact, McCurdy refused to fight most of the proposed measures, voicing his organization’s support for mandatory brake-override systems, keyless ignition standards, and event data recorder standards (if not the exact measure proposed in the MVSA) in his opening statement. Even an increase in NHTSA fines was found acceptable to the AAM as long as it helped preserve caps on NHTSA fines. Toyota could have faced $13.8b in fines under an uncapped version of the current fine structure, and would have faced $69b in fines under the proposed legislation.

But that wasn’t the only issue McCurdy took a stand on. Towards the end of his statement, he really gets going on the topic of giving NHTSA the power to stop vehicle sales:

Regarding granting NHTSA imminent hazard authority, the proposed provisions are so lacking in standards and the opportunity to be heard before a neutral decision-maker as to violate the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

McCurdy’s statement closes by blasting the proposed $250m maximum fine for auto executives as unfair, arguing that it was over 50 times harsher than the maximum penalty for financial crimes under Sarbanes-Oxley. “I thought that must be a typo,” said McCurdy. Of course he mayjust have been cranky about having to remind congress that:

A proposed transmission configuration standard is not necessary because such a standard already exists.

The Republicans, meanwhile appear to have been somewhat less strategic and more polemical than the industry. McCurdy’s statement conspicuously stayed away from the new vehicle sale fee issue, but both he and Stanton testified against increasing NHTSA’s budget without a clear mission. Republicans were less equivocal, laying into the provision along anti-tax lines. A sampling comes courtesy of Rep Joe Barton and the Detroit Free Press:

This bill imposes more taxes, gives big government new unfettered authorities, and provides potentially crippling penalties on industry while providing questionable safety benefits

You get the picture. The Republicans also echoed McCurdy’s concerns about event data recorder privacy, and imminent hazard authority, with John Dingell (D-M) crossing the aisle to join arms on the latter issue according to the WSJ [sub].

Under this hail of attacks along all-too familiar expansion-of-government lines, the Obama administration shrank away from a wholehearted endorsement of the proposed legislation. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland excused himself from an exhaustive opinion, pleading that

Time has not permitted full review of all of the draft legislation’s provisions throughout the Executive Branch

As a result, his testimony appears to have been less than entirely illuminating. He argued in favor of imminent hazard, on the grounds that other consumer protection agencies are granted the same power. Though anxious to not associate the White House with any of the proposed legislation’s more controversial measures, Strickland did concede that:

NHTSA is a strong Agency; this bill’s authorities would make us stronger. If enacted, these measures would significantly increase the agency’s leverage in dealing with manufacturers

Full prepared testimony from today’s hearing can be found at the House Committee On Energy And Commerce.

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2 of 24 comments
  • Segar925 Segar925 on May 08, 2010

    "newcarscostalot" By your own admission: 1. Boom and bust in the housing market(caused in large part by CRA) 2. Speculation(in the housing market, largely due to effects of CRA) 3. High-risk mortgage loans and lending/borrowing practices(CRA loans to unqualified buyers mandated by government policy) 4. Securitization practices 5. Inaccurate credit ratings 6. Government policies (CRA intervention in the private market) Bottom line here is the government intervention screws up virtually everything it touches, just like corporate bail-outs that only worsen and prolong the eventual outcome.

  • Newcarscostalot Newcarscostalot on May 08, 2010

    Lack of intervention allowing corporations to police themselves also leads to serious negative consequences, which is what happened during the years President Bush and the Republicans controlled the government. This is fact, not something I or anyone else makes up. Why folks that lean to the right and pretend to be conservative (just like the Republican politicians that do the same thing) choose to dispute this is beyond me. I for one Don't agree with bailouts, because they do nothing except prolong the cycle. For example, Chrysler got bailed out around 30 years ago. When this happens, Executives/shareholders who are never held accountable just shrug and say 'Oh well, if we need money the government will give it to us.' I for one don't like any politicians, but If I have to choose between Republicans or Democrats, I usually choose Democrats as the slightly lesser of two evils. Then I drink a beer, because really, you need a beer to lessen the effects of their crazy policies.

  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.