By on October 29, 2014

Did Takata effectively bribe their way out of an NHTSA investgation? That appears to be the allegation made in the New York Times by auto-safety careerists Clarence Ditlow and Ralph Nader.

Titled Weak Oversight, Deadly Cars, the co-authored piece argues for the return of iron-fisted regulatory behavior on the part of the United States Government — up to and including the incarceration of major industry figures.

Shots are fired as the duo open the piece with outright allegations of corruption and what amounts to bribery and coercion of public officials:

Only after a lengthy delay was the agency prodded, in 2009, into opening an investigation into whether the first two Honda recalls of Takata airbags were adequate. Although the agency asked tough questions, it quickly closed the investigation after Takata hired a former senior N.H.T.S.A. official to represent the company… [N]umerous officials — including Diane K. Steed, Jerry Ralph Curry, Sue Bailey and David L. Strickland, who all served as head of the agency, and Erika Z. Jones, Jacqueline S. Glassman and Paul Jackson Rice, who all served as chief counsel to the agency — have gone on to become consultants, lawyers or expert witnesses for auto companies.

In other words, there’s a revolving door between the industry and the governmental agency assigned to control its deadliest excesses. Sound familiar? Only because the same thing exists between automotive journalism and manufacturer public relations offices.

What’s the solution? Unsurprisingly for anyone familiar with Messrs. Nader and Ditlow, it’s some Soviet-style personal responsibility for corporate failures:

[T]he industry has blocked any meaningful provision for criminal penalties that would make company executives who concealed defects or decided not to recall dangerous vehicles subject to prison sentences. No single reform would change corporate behavior as much as this.

Why stop at throwing them in jail? Why not just have them purged via the expedient of a bullet to the head? It’s not difficult to imagine Nader licking his lips as he fantasizes about taking the role of the Scarecrow in Bane’s “court of the people”:

The utterly repugnant idea of throwing engineers in jail for failing to design the perfect airbag is a relic of the Soviet era in more ways than one: surely every automaker in the United States would react by moving their entire engineering and technical staffs overseas within months, something Nader and Ditlow have perhaps failed to consider. Alternately, they are confident that the United States could impose such penalties on Japanese, German, or Korean engineers, perhaps with the assistance of Seal Team Six.

Yet it must be admitted that the American public’s natural resistance to Stalin-esque rubbish like this diminishes significantly every time the so-called free market fires metal shrapnel into an accident victim’s neck. Which is why the automakers need to consider Messrs. Nader and Ditlow less the discarded remnants of Carter-era idiocy and more the voices crying out in the wilderness, telling the sinners of this world to clean up their mess lest it be cleaned for them, with unpredictable results.

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87 Comments on “Ditlow And Nader: Put Executives In Jail For Takata And GM Recalls...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The plan is unworkable as Jack points out, but if we’re going to start jailing incompetent people let start with Congress, the White House, and most of Wall Street’s leadership.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-X

      Yes. There should clearly be accountability there too.

      But, hmmm, I can’t help but think of other personal actions that endanger lives…

      Corporate employees are scared of losing their job, and some have no other means to alert (an incompetent governmental agency?), so they often don’t press the issue; compare that to the motive/rationale of the actions of the people who drive ultra-fast on public roads.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      “Sound familiar? Only because the same thing exists between automotive journalism and manufacturer public relations offices.”

      No, it sounds familiar because it’s the same as banks during the financial meltdown.

      It’s also important to distinguish between incompetent and illegal. If you design, approve, build, sell a bad product, that’s one thing, but if you disobey a law doing so, that’s something else. If execs or engineers violated any laws (such as required testing, publishing information, complying with investigations, etc.), then the punishments associated with those violations should be enforced. If there was no law on the books at the time of the incident, then laws should not be retroactively enforced.

      Simple enactment of law and its enforcement will not drive away engineering jobs. Again going back to financial markets, industries that are well regulated (meaning have good rules that are enforced) provide confidence of safety and consistency that draws investment. Holding people accountable to the rules makes things better; witch hunts make them worse.

    • 0 avatar
      adamiata

      Rich people don’t go to jail.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    I won’t get into politics nor “take sides” with individuals, but based on depositions given and party admissions now made regarding the GM ignition defect, I think that a legitimate moral and legal case can be made that there are GM executives/employees (one senior executive, one in-house attorney and one engineer, at minimum) that should serve jail time.

    Simply stated, at least these three individuals knew of a defect that was causing injuries and deaths, yet not only did not do the right thing in attempting to correct it, but the actively tried to bury it further.

    I realise that my comment will elicit reflexive gnashing of teeth, but there is likely to be no substantive rebuttal to it; just emotionally charged wailing.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      I agree with you on the GM deal. But Nader is referencing a failure in an airbag module that I am willing to bet passed all the PV / DV testing. Nader and Ditlow can shove all of this up their collective ass. This airbag defect wasn’t made prevalent until most of these vehicles were reaching EOL. This isn’t Takata’s fault, customers should understand the inherent risks with driving rusted out pieces of sh1t and cars that are humid enough to get black mold and water in hydroscopic explosives packed into the IP. We need the government to mandate airbag replacement every 10 years / 100,000 miles! That way everyone’s car is totaled out and we are all safe! (kill me right now)

      I still don’t understand where the money for retooling the ignition ‘lock’ lever came from. Was Delphi still svcking GM’s d1ck like they were still some parts division or some sh1t? That ignition fiasco has some shady areas where normal stringent process checks are in place. Maybe GM engineers cars like some moonlighting garage mechanic and Ford is a stringent, golden model of robust engineering and change control? LMFAO I can’t believe I just typed that.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Tres, I was speaking only to the GM ignition cylinder issue above, and intentional withheld judgment/comment about Takata because the investigation into the Takata defect (how it came about, when it was discovered, who knew) is in its early stages, etc.)…

        …so I essentially agree with what you wrote.

        As far as the Delphi vis-a-vis GM is concerned, regarding the ignition cylinder defect, legally speaking, anyone in the chain of distibution or manufacture of a defective part has legal liability as a result of injuries or deaths caused by that defective part as used in an intended, unmodified manner.

        Manufacturers and suppliers can hash out indemnity agreements between each other, and often do, but that’s a financial matter, not a legal liability one, and GM couldn’t, for instance, shield Delphi from legal liability by way of intra-party contract (GM could only pay for damages incurred by Delphi as a result of lawsuits, or vice-versa).

        All of this, in terms of financial means redesign and reinstall a non-defective ignition cylinder was probably greatly complicated by both the bankruptcy of GM and of Delphi.

        What’s egregious is that key GM employees deposed admitted (under oath) that they knew of the ignition cylinder defect AT LEAST as early as 2005 (and others at GM very likely knew about it even earlier), and made a cost-benefit decision, even though they knew it led to catastrophic loss of control of the affected vehicles, and that actual people were being injured and killed, to bury the problem and intentionally suppress it.

        That’s criminal behavior by any rational definition.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          The intentional lack of a part # rev speaks to all of what you said. I need to look to see who approved the purchasing requisitions. I have never heard of an organization where a Design and Release engineer can solely fund something such as this (without senior management involvement).

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Not knowing the full story behind the Takata issue, it seems that someone deliberately tried to conceal, hide, or dismiss the issue, and if so, and if that person/people violated law in those actions actions (not the initial design), then what else should be done but enforce the law?

        If what they did was ethically wrong but not illegal, then no legal action should occur. That’s the part that most emotional cries for vengeance fail.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Whatever. We’re all already dead, man.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    Kindly slit your bellies by sundown.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    A better idea is to have the auto executives along with Congress, the White House, and most of Wall Street’s leadership replace the dummies in crash tests. Sure would save the taxpayers a lot of money.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    “The utterly repugnant idea of throwing engineers in jail for failing to design the perfect airbag is a relic of the Soviet era in more ways than one: surely every automaker in the United States would react by moving their entire engineering and technical staffs overseas within months, something Nader and Ditlow have perhaps failed to consider”

    Nader is talking about jailing _executives_, not engineers, and doing so in cases of willful malfeasance, not accidental oversight. Engineers don’t usually make the decision to obfuscate, deny, derail or delay investigations; their management does.

    Nader is advocating for C-suite level responsibility; something that’s been sorely lacking—especially on Wall St. What’s the point of civil prosecution when the fines are democratized (or worse, a cost of doing business) that fail to discourage essentially criminal behaviour.

    Why _aren’t_ the likes of Jamie Dimon or Douglas Flint in jail? I’m okay with “Too Big To Fail”, but this “Too Big To Jail” is quite another matter.

    But it’s more fun to mis-characterize much-needed reforms with a comparison to Soviet Russia.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    Jack, did you bother to read the quotes that have you cite as giving you such indigestion? I absolutely am not defending Nader & Co., but they are simply suggesting extending criminal negligence for knowingly covering up a known defect that leads to injury or death, not “throwing engineers in jail for not designing the perfect airbag.” Talk about rhetoric…

    Also, swapping executives and high-ranking agency officials is hardly comparable to a few free buffets and trips given to auto journalists for a hopefully favorable handling and acceleration review. One thing is nothing like the other. Your standby soapbox about the manufacturers and journalists colluding has officially run out of miles. Hop off it please.

    If anything, that absolutely true and very dangerous aspect of this story (rightly criticized by Nader and Ditlow) should be the source of justifiable outrage.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Extending negligence how far, and to whom?

      No need to ask those questions, of course, I’m sure the government will make the correct decisions.

      “Also, swapping executives and high-ranking agency officials is hardly comparable to a few free buffets and trips given to auto journalists for a hopefully favorable handling and acceleration review. One thing is nothing like the other. Your standby soapbox about the manufacturers and journalists colluding has officially run out of miles. Hop off it please.”

      I think you’re missing the point: that all too frequently consumers are advised on the merits of a vehicle by someone who was or will be employed by an automaker or a PR firm. And if there’s nothing comparable about it, ask yourself how many people were hurt by the Citations and other X-bodies that the auto magazines endorsed wholeheartedly.

      • 0 avatar

        Correct me if I’m wrong but don’t a number of european countries jail engineers for negligence? I seem to recall railroad engineers in both France and Germany going to jail for rail accidents. I also seem to remember the UK doing something similar with powerplant engineers a few years back.

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      You couldn’t criticize a fat & soaked Elvis when he was working up his 50 year-old ladies and you won’t get any further criticizing Baruth when he tosses anti-authoritarian morsels to his adoring pack.

      OM-nom-nom-nom-nom…

      • 0 avatar
        Hurf

        There’s nothing anti-authoritarian about defending corporate executives.

        As has been pointed out, Baruth obviously doesn’t understand the paper he’s citing or is trolling for clicks by wildly distorting and misinterpreting what was said.

        He writes entertaining articles about driving cars around race tracks but this entire screed is garbage, intentional or otherwise.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Waingrow

        Agree. Nader is making an allegation. Why not discuss the merits of same without reference to “Soviet-style” histrionics? This kind of crap is such a turn-off.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      But where do you draw the line? Do you honestly believe that Takata could have simulated 10+ years (past EOL) of water absorption in their testing? This is making the assumption that the OEM required this in their PV / DV testing – which I would bet they didn’t. I’m no interior D&R, but I never remembered seeing any weather/climate based durability testing done on interior bits of trim.

      So what should Takata do? They fight to exist. They hired someone who would help make nonsense go away. That or they would turn into yet another Tier 1 scape goat and disappear in the forever revolving doors of Tier 1 auto supplier names. And some lawyers would get rich and a bunch of OEM’s would have to service 5% of cars because 75% of the world’s population who drives POS used cars do not give a f*ck and the rest of them are already exported abroad or crushed. Wait, let me guess that you feel it’s our responsibility as a nation to extend these warranties to our eastern European friends and ensure their airbags aren’t Takata sh1t?

      The outrage should be that anyone expects their 10 year old vehicle to be just as safe as it was when it rolled of the god damned assembly line. That’s f*cking ludicrous.

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        “The outrage should be that anyone expects their 10 year old vehicle to be just as safe as it was when it rolled of the god damned assembly line. That’s f*cking ludicrous.”

        This. 10^10 this. The people that most need to understand this are those that are least capable. It’s another Heisenberg-like principle of the world. Hope is a four-letter word.

        • 0 avatar
          petezeiss

          Yes, but am I a cretin to expect only increasing annoyance from a well-maintained 10 year-old car, not a fragging?

          I think we’ve got a real difference of kind here, not merely degree.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        tresmonos, it’s not ludicrous to be surprised that air bags in a 10 year old vehicle might deploy with shrapnel. First, the average age of cars in the US is now 11.4 years with large numbers operating in their 2nd decade of life.
        http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_26.html_mfd
        In areas that don’t use salt a 10 year old car is only slightly faded with zero rust. Second, at no time have I heard anyone say that air bags become dangerous with age. No way would I expect the propellant to change over time in a way that INCREASES the pressure when it deploys. Third, I would expect that the interior of a car is a relatively low-humidity environment. Heat from the sun forces the use of air conditioning which dries out the interior in the summer. During the winter, people frequently use air conditioning to prevent condensation on windows. The interior air gets so dry that I keep ChapStick in the car.

      • 0 avatar
        Erikstrawn

        Takata knew the effects of water absorption on the explosives in the airbag. Explosive ordinance handling has very strict rules, and they violated them, then went ahead and used compromised explosives. I agree with Ditlow and Nader that if someone violated those rules to save some money, jail time is in order.

      • 0 avatar
        andrewallen

        So you belong to the school of thought that defines an American engineer as someone who can design a disposable beer can that lasts 10 000 years but is incapable of designing a motor car or building to last 10?

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      KalapanaBlack, the problem with jailing auto company employees for covering up a safety defect is most safety defects today are extremely rare events that may require years before any pattern of failures is obvious. There’s a risk that lawyer/politician types might view normal caution in failure analysis plus delays inherent in designing and testing a replacement part as evidence of intentional foot dragging by the people involved.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    “The utterly repugnant idea of throwing engineers in jail for failing to design the perfect airbag is a relic of the Soviet era in more ways than one: surely every automaker in the United States would react by moving their entire engineering and technical staffs overseas within months, something Nader and Ditlow have perhaps failed to consider”

    Nader is talking about jailing _executives_, not engineers, and doing so in cases of willful malfeasance, not accidental oversight. Engineers don’t usually make the decision to obfuscate, deny, derail or delay investigations; their management does.

    Nader is advocating for C-suite level responsibility; something that’s been sorely lacking—especially on Wall St. What’s the point of civil prosecution when the fines are democratized (or worse, a cost of doing business) that fail to discourage essentially criminal behaviour.

    Why _aren’t_ the likes of Jamie Dimon or Douglas Flint in jail? I’m okay with “Too Big To Fail”, but this “Too Big To Jail” is quite another matter.

    But it’s more fun to mis-characterize much-needed reforms with a comparison to the USSR.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    …and spam-blocked.

  • avatar
    jdash1972

    Throw engineers in jail for bad product design? (No) Or throw executives in jail for lying about their knowledge of a potentially dangerous defect and hiding the information to avoid a costly recall (absolutely). What’s your point, because you lost the thread of your own argument when you mentioned jailing engineers.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    Makes sense.

    Guys like Nader and Ditlow admire Uncle Joe, so it’s entirely consistent that they’d advocate a few of his policies.

    After all, Stalin was just trying to make the world a better place.

    None of that human suffering was his fault, that was just the result of all those selfish wreckers and saboteurs and kulaks not knowing what was good for them.

    God save us from the enlightened.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Fear not, it’s not going to happen.

      It hasn’t happened yet for the decades of bad cars the Detroit 3 cranked out, and it will not happen with Takata either.

      My guess would be that bad Detroit cars killed more people than Takata’s bad Hecho en Mexico air bags did.

      This whole concept of accountability in America is an exercise in futility. You are the one who has to look out for you and yours because no one else does.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        You must be unaware of all the personal injury lawyer ads that I see everywhere. Or the labels telling me that my hot coffee is hot.

        I’ll tell you what, if I ever get in the position, I’ll make sure to put a sticker on your car that states when it gets old, things may not work as their design intended, decades prior. Better yet, I’m going to sue the sh1t out of you because my hair is greying. God help your bank account if I ever lose my good looks or congenial disposition.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Who can I sue for my male pattern baldness?

          America is so crazy about litagation that the infant bathtub chair/seat that we had for our daughter was recalled because, “A child left unattended in the chair may drown in the bathtub.” WHY WOULD YOU LEAVE YOU 6 MONTH OLD ALONE IN A BATHTUB!!!

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            Same reason everyone born should just get an engineering degree so highdesertcat’s worries can no longer exist.

            Same reason I sold my 10 year old car with 200k on the clock because it’s subframe scared the sh1t out of me.

            Same reason I mock my gf for suing someone who t-boned her car and left her with medical bills resulting from a horrid lower back injury (should have had insurance, gf!).
            That is one instance where litigious society has paid off for me personally – I can now push her lower back down ever so slightly when I make coitus and behold everything that is glorious.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          “You must be unaware of all the personal injury lawyer ads that I see everywhere. Or the labels telling me that my hot coffee is hot.”

          Nader is arguing for _criminal_ prosecution, not civil.

          Just so we’re clear, this isn’t about money off the legal department’s line on the PnL that will get democratized out as a cost of doing business, it’s about piercing the corporate veil and jailing people for willful malfeasance.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            Should the company be made liable for this? That is my main contention. The cars had 10 year old airbags in them. We’re not even sure the sample size of confirmed ‘fragmentation’ of units supplied. If this is a confirmed design flaw (and not some casting that didn’t meet print) that passed all testing, who is liable 10 years after the fact? Who is liable once designed end of life of the vehicle is reached?

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            psar, “Nader is arguing for _criminal_ prosecution, not civil.”

            That’s the way I read it too.

            Even so, it’s not going to happen. And as we already saw with GM’s ignition switch, the layers of obfuscation, misdirection and misinformation were many and spanned many years.

            Who would have bailed out GM if this had come to light before the bailouts, handouts and nationalization?

            Someone (an attorney) should do an article on ttac detailing personal injury litigation vs criminal prosecution.

            There is a difference, and that’s why manufacturers employ a legion of attorneys to mitigate their liabilities and losses.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            So prosecute criminally because civil prosecution was averted.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Good points tresmonos.

          • 0 avatar
            psarhjinian

            It’s generally harder to get criminal convictions, which may be part of the reason why attorneys don’t attempt it.

            That said, in some of these cases there’s a definite, willful intent to deceive or defraud. And it would set a good precedent to try.

        • 0 avatar
          andrewallen

          And you expect 10 year old steel reinforced concrete buildings to be unsafe just because they were designed by American engineers and are now a bit old? I don’t.
          Its a bit like if the Honda manual tells me to replace the ball joints every 100 000Km and I don’t when the wheels fall off its my fault. As the manual doesn’t I am furious when the front wheels DO fall off…..if the car didnt HANG from the ball joints but pushed on them like my VW Kombi I would say Honda engineering was acceptable it doesn’t so Honda suspension engineering is a dangerous menace to life and limb.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      Either you’re a 12 year old trolling or you’re retarded.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “company executives who concealed defects or decided not to recall dangerous vehicles subject to prison sentences.”

    That is not “jailing engineers for not making a perfect airbag”, is the thing.

    I think Nader is a jerk – and wrong here – but we should fairly represent what he said; he’s attacking executive decision-making, not engineering.

    Criminal penalties for concealing a dangerous defect might be defensible *in principle* (the problem being that to a Nader, “concealing a dangerous defect” is hard to tell from “deciding that a 1 in a zillion chance of something they think might cause bruising, and thus is not worth ‘reporting’ or recalling), in a way that punishing engineers for making an airbag that happened to fail unexpectedly isn’t.

    “Deciding not to recall” is subject to the same dangerous ambiguity around the decision-making process and legitimate matters of judgment over severity and impact.

    • 0 avatar
      OneAlpha

      That’s the problem.

      What’s the difference between “concealing a dangerous defect” and rolling the dice on a one-in-a-billion POTENTIAL problem that may or may not blossom into a shitstorm?

      Especially when the odds are astronomical AGAINST the problem manifesting itself, but those of a stock devaluation due to negative PR over a recall are so much higher?

      In the end, it’s a judgment call and hindsight’s 20-20 through your asshole.

      You don’t want some Chicken Little CEO issuing a recall over every possible problem, because your investors’ stock would become worthless and the company would go out of business.

      That’s one of the reasons that corporate executives get paid so much money, and in my opinion deserve every penny of it.

      They’re the ones that have to roll those dice and make those judgment calls, knowing that the wrong decision will easily affect many thousands of people.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Sigivald, I’m NO fan of Ralph but he did manage to get GM to take the Corvair off the market after publishing his book “Unsafe at any speed.”

      In retrospect, we’ll never know how many lives old Ralph saved from death or injury.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        “… he did manage to get GM to take the Corvair off the market …”

        Nader’s book wasn’t published until after the Corvair he declared unsafe had already been completely redesigned without the swing axle. The general public, idiots then as now, reacted to Nader’s book by not buying any more 2nd gen Corvairs.

        In my book, the only good Nader ever did for this country was his part in sending Manbearpig back to Tennessee 14 years ago.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Dan,
          Ralph Nader kicked off the safety movement in the US, likely saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Dan,”Nader’s book wasn’t published until after the Corvair he declared unsafe had already been completely redesigned without the swing axle. ”

          You are absolutely correct in that statement. And I appreciate someone like myself who is old enough to remember the events leading up to the demise of the Corvair. That was something, wasn’t it?

          My dad bought a used yellow Corvair Spyder cheap in 1965 for my mom, but because of all the negative press on TV before then, she refused to drive it.

          My mom also refused to let my sisters drive it because the testimony of Nader had struck a chord of fear within her.

          My mom did drive a Beetle for a while and that didn’t seem to bother her.

          One of my friends in the Air Force when I joined in 1965 had a green Corvair he had been given by his parents when he enlisted and he did his best to sell it so he could buy what he really wanted.

          When I left that base to go to Viet Nam in 1966, more than a year later, he still had not been able to sell it. Couldn’t find a sucker to take it off his hands, and no dealers wanted them.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            “My mom did drive a Beetle for a while and that didn’t seem to bother her”

            Likewise, many people abandoned their Pintos out of fear for their safety while Gremlin drivers were none the wiser that their vehicles were more likely to burn them to death than the carbeque poster child Pinto was.

      • 0 avatar
        andrewallen

        As I recall a story that may be apocryphal, after Chev he picked on Rolls Royce at which point he was challenged to pick what he considered to be the safest car available in the US to drive in a head on collision duel with the head of RR engineering driving a Rolls. Not being a complete idiot old Ralph declined the challenge of course.

  • avatar
    TW5

    If I wanted to discourage people from building airbags and establishing performance benchmarks, I’d threaten them with jail. If I wanted safer cars, I’d offer people a substantial monetary reward.

    Jail is the laziest way to solve a problem, and it should only be reserved for unreasonable people who are incapable of following the basic social contract.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “Jail is the laziest way to solve a problem, and it should only be reserved for unreasonable people who are incapable of following the basic social contract.”

      And yet we jail people by the thousands for drug possession or cam’ing a movie, but are perfectly okay with them wrecking the global economy. The latter is a far worse violation of the social contract.

      Personally, I would be okay with managerial or executive jail time. The idea of the limited-liability corporation is not working well.

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        Moral equivalency is not part of the criminal justice system, and wrecking the global economy is not synonymous with installing airbags that missed their performance benchmarks. Though I may be for decriminalization and reforming copyright and licensing regulations, those matters of law have no bearing on corporate ethics.

        Would you put a fireman in jail, if he accidentally hit someone with his axe, while splitting open a door to break into their flaming building? Probably not.

        Why jail executives for installing life-saving devices on vehicles, especially when the equipment is federally-mandated? Airbags are not particularly effective safety devices, but they don’t kill more people than they save. Furthermore, they weren’t operationally defective at the time of installation. Instead, the airbags deteriorate over time, and that’s why the fatalities are just now showing up.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          “Why jail executives for installing life-saving devices on vehicles, especially when the equipment is federally-mandated?”

          That’s not what I, or Nader, is arguing. It’s not jailing them for installing airbags, it’s jailing them for avoiding dealing with the issue.

          Accidents happen, and I think people understand that. When people cover up a string of accidents to avoid doing something to prevent more, to make money, and/or to protect their reputation, then that’s an issue.

          “Would you put a fireman in jail, if he accidentally hit someone with his axe, while splitting open a door to break into their flaming building? Probably not.”

          Let’s stretch this analogy to cover what Nader’s talking about:

          * Fire chief specs cheap axes that accidentally wound citizens repeatedly
          * Fire chief learns about this
          * Fire chief sits on the report and denies there’s a problem
          * Fire chief keeps buying cheap axes.

          Nader’s talking about jailing the chief, not the firefighter. You, and Mr. Baruth, are somehow misconstruing this to mean jailing the front-liners, rather than the chief, probably because Nader-bashing is worth clicks.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Consider how many lives Takata airbags have saved.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Rocket Research (now Aerojet), was retained by a consortium of auto manufacturers to design the inflation system for the airbags. They did. They also showed that the propellant is hygroscopic–it absorbs moisture–and in that condition, the shock wave is decidedly more rapid and powerful. In a demonstration for the automakers in 1977, they detonated a compromised air bag actuator that destroyed the vehicle.

    The cartridge that holds the inflation material has two jobs: function safely in a normal deployment and fail safely if the material is contaminated with moisture. Have Aerojet show you the detonating device and where the shrapnel is coming from. Then ask them if both jobs can be performed satisfactorily in the air bags that are being installed today either as replacements or in your brand new car or truck.

    Me thinks the answer is no. They’ve focused on a better seal, which is good, but overlooked redesigning the cartridge, designing it so it will not erupt in a shrapnel-filled explosion if compromised.

  • avatar
    mic

    The quote Jack quoted,”[T]he industry has blocked any meaningful provision for criminal penalties that would make company executives who concealed defects or decided not to recall dangerous vehicles subject to prison sentences.” does not indicate that the engineers would be found liable. I’m not for throwing them in jail. Jail the guys who are concealing the defects and trying to save money by hiding unsafe cars. If I leave my yard gate open and a kid drowns in my pool, then I’m liable for creating a dangerous situation. If I then lock the gate and lie that I didn’t know how he got in there they should lock me up and throw away the key! Admittedly the analogy isn’t perfect but it sounds good:)

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I think we all can agree that the revolving door between regulators and industry is despicable and should be eliminated.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Perhaps the problem would eliminate itself if regulators didn’t have such free reign of the cookie jar.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      And here we get to the heart of the problem. Regulatory capture via the revolving door negates all efforts to enforce effective and meaningful regulations in any field, be it manufacturing, finance or food. But how do you close that door? Could we ever pay regulators enough to keep them from switching sides? I don’t think we could legally prevent people from taking a job on the other side of the fence.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        It’s 6:12 am est on Halloween and I logged in to +1 you.

        Total regulatory capture of and complicity between regulatory, enforcement agencies and private industry is nearly absolutely complete, and on this Halloween, should be one of the leading spooky thoughts to any sentient American.

        Big Pharma Inc., Big Food Inc., Big Banking, Inc., Big Defense Inc., Big Prison Inc., etc. are all the new legislators, unelected, writing the statutes and greatly helping to hand select those who interpret same (for their inevitable benefit).

        The fish rots from the head. Empires eat their own tails.

  • avatar

    better yet, imprison Red Ink Rick for intentionally bankrupting General Motors. he is a criminal of the highest order. trust me, after over 40 years in the business and delivering in excess of 25000 units at retail, general manager of stores and the foremost expert of GM history, this man is an evil person who committed a crime that decimated cities and caused untold damage to families, communities, and our nation. he is a rat.

  • avatar
    JGlanton

    If we are going to start jailing people for dishonest behavior, Ralph Nader should be the first in line. Master of emotional arguments using correlation without causation, he has fraudulently cost corporations and their consumers billions of dollars.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    This is a very interesting article. Over the years i have owned two 1991 cars with driver side airbags. One was a VW convrtible and one was a Mazda Miata. I sold the VW a few years ago and use the Miata on weekends. Both cars were very low mileage with no rust and very close to mint condition. Both airbar systems worked fine according to the self testing system but their was always the question of the airbag its self. Many owners replaced the steering wheel assy with a non airbag unit. Others left them alone becaause the replacement cost is quite high. I understand my year used many Ford parts and that i can get rebuilt parts from various firms. The later Miata’s namely i think 1996 when the two air bags were installed are almost impossable to get parts for. I understand Mazda only stocks parts for the system until all the parts are sold then you are out of luck. I have not checked yet but i bet that any airbag system parts for a 10 year old car might be impossable to get. (Other then certain cars that this article is about) I keep fighting in my mind do i disconnnect the system or keep my fingers crossed. I trust the seat belts more then any other safety divice.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Threats of jail for those who should have known better will encourage companies to redesign their org charts so that important people aren’t in a position to know better.

    New job titles will be created for those who become the resident fall guys, outside consultants will be hired in order to measure compliance with the new rules, and the corporate culture will be even worse off than it was before. Trials and handcuffs sound fun and everything, but that’s not a smart approach for something like this.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I’d like to add to the comments that call Jack out for utterly misreading the quote: Nader talked about jailing executives for covering up defects, and Jack somehow turned that into jailing engineers that made the mistakes to begin with and then beat that mis-identified horse into a bloody pulp.

    In any case, criminal negligence (and I think actively covering up a widespread deadly defect qualifies) is not a concept foreign to American jurisprudence. (Or, for that matter, foreign to foreign jurisprudence; I don’t think an extradition request would be immediately denied.)

    If we are going to have a debate, at least let us talk about the same things.

    A correction in the article is certainly called for.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      A correction in the article is only called for if people who advocate the extension of governmental power have always stopped at the most limiting interpretation possible of their initial words on the subject.

      Do you think Mary Barra would be the one to go to jail on these airbags? Of course not. It will be the “executive” in charge of engineering them — and if Mr. Nader doesn’t precisely intend that, it will nonetheless be the way the auto companies and the government make sure it shakes out.

      • 0 avatar
        etho1416

        Well if it was the chief engineer who knowingly covered up a deadly defect then they should go to jail. If they reported it to ms barra and she did nothing than she should go to jail inspired. Seems pretty simple.

        Under your philosophy why bother making any fraud a crime. Let’s never hold anyone accountable for anything.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Threats of jail for those who should have known better will encourage companies to redesign their org charts so that important people aren’t in a position to know better.

    New job titles will be created for those who become the resident fall guys, outside consultants will be hired in order to measure compliance with the new rules, and the corporate culture will be even worse off than it was before. Trials and handcuffs sound fun and everything, but that’s not a smart approach for something like this.

  • avatar
    jetcal1

    This is the same crap that killed general aviation, 30 year old airplane crashes because if 30 year old worn parts…..lawsuit!

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      Ever listened to tower chatter between controllers and drunk private pilots flying themselves in to a major sporting event?

      Losing GA traffic only makes us all safer.

  • avatar
    AH-1WSuperCobra

    Even if this did ever happen there is no way the top guy would ever take the fall. It will be some summer intern that comes forward who will admit it was his fault he didn’t forward and email. They will also round up a few of the highest ranking people with the least amount of clout to parade in front of the public. The CEO will give some bs speech on the values of said company while congress then nods in approval while lining their pockets with contributions.

    It happens all the time on political campaigns. After a screw up and some flunky jumps on the grenade and then six months later lands some sweet lobbyist gig.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      I made a similar point that was lost in the spam filter.

      Car companies will hire a senior officer who becomes the unofficial fall guy, leaving room for the other execs to maintain plausible deniability. Consultants will be engaged to move more accountability to others outside the company. The whole thing would be a pointless exercise.

  • avatar
    furiouschads

    Perhaps this was intended for red state and posted here by mistake?

  • avatar
    shaker

    If these airbags would have killed/maimed a few wealthy people in 3 year-old BMW’s, I think events would have evolved differently.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    The Takata CEO should commit Sepuku on live TV, preferably on Oprah.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Regarding the knee-jerk class warfare meme of my previous comment (which I tried to edit, but couldn’t) – the poor will inordinately suffer in deteriorating vehicles – at least make the airbags “fail-to-inert”, with a warning light indicating that they won’t work.

    It would save lives, but open a complicated legal mess that would result in more regulations.

    Messy.

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      Or maybe back off a moment to review the argument for installing multiple little IEDs in a car to begin with?

      Like how they can snap a short drivers neck if they have to sit too close to the steering wheel, or how their outgassing can be fatal in a closed vehicle for an unconscious occupant?

      Is this permitted or have those gates slammed closed?

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        It’s that “Cost/Benefit” thing that the insurance companies and regulatory agencies sign off to – but the tendency for short-term thinking (cost savings, political considerations) certainly led to selective neglect of the “far” future (i.e. 10-15 years out).

        Climate change, same thing – though I’ll have to give the Pentagon credit for their evolving proactive stance on the disruptive effects of AGW, and the contingencies that they’re beginning to plan for. That’s probably because the military leadership, by nature, has to be grounded in reality, unlike politicians.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Round up the aristrocrats!

  • avatar
    etho1416

    Wow, this is a pretty inaccurate post.

    Mr. Nader seems to explicitly say in the quote Mr. Baruth provides, that he wants to punish “..company executives who concealed defects or decided not to recall dangerous vehicles…”.

    So why does Mr. Baruth go on an long rant about putting engineers who accidentally design a faulty part in jail? Where on earth does does this come from? Not from the material he quoted. It is a total misinterpretation aimed at bashing the longtime safety advocate.

    I do not think, and the quotes back it up, that Mr. Nader is asking for engineers go to jail for a design flaw. He is asking that executives (and one could assume even engineers) who discover that a design has a fatal flaw, and then choose to either cover it up or not recall it, should be held accountable. Is that really that crazy? Yes it might be tough to prove who knew what and when but prosecution should be an option if the case is clear that someone knew of the problem and either did not disclose it to a superior or someone knowingly misled a regulator, etc.

    This remind me of the old Niedermeyer-led hard-right libertarian stance this site used to take. I hope it is not going down that road again.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Many companies prompt engineers into the “management path” these days. One would reason that this is to introduce some expertise into the management regime, thus allowing decisions based on sound science. But (like all seemingly good things) this has morphed into a layer of “engineers” that are more prone to make decisions on behalf of the bottom line, rather than pure engineering (especially risk analysis). I look to the Morton Thiokol engineers who pleaded against the Challenger shuttle launch, and the “manageers” who overruled them.

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