Proposed Legislation Would Increase Penalties for Negligent Automakers

A new bill authored by John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Mark Pryor, D-Ar., would raise the fine automakers are required to pay for failing to recall an unsafe vehicle, give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) more power to penalize automakers and make several improvements to vehicle safety.

The Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2011 increases the current maximum fine automakers face for failing to recall unsafe vehicles from $16.4 million to $250 million. Rockefeller and Pryor hope that the increased fine will serve as more than just a slap on the wrist and drive home to automakers how serious the NHTSA and the federal government are about vehicle safety. The current fine of $16.4 million is miniscule compared to automaker earnings. For example, Ford Motor Company made $2.6 billion in the first quarter of this year alone. A fine of $250 million would make more of an impact on automakers' coffers, and thus motivate them to be more aggressive when making recall decisions regarding dangerous or defective car parts.

In addition to the fine hike, the bill would expand the NHTSA's ability to appropriately penalize automakers by allowing the agency to consider previous violations when determining the amount of other fines.

The bill also outlines several vehicle safety improvements. It mandates that brake override systems, which would allow the driver to stop a speeding car even if the throttle is open, be installed in new passenger vehicles. In addition to the brake override, the bill would require the NHTSA to develop pedal placement standards that would make pedals similarly safe across different vehicle makes.

One of the biggest safety changes proposed is the mandatory installation of event data recorders. If the Act becomes law, the bill would require new vehicles to be fitted with a black box device by 2015. The recorder would be the property of the vehicle's owner, and its information only available to the owner and through court subpoena.

The Rockefeller and Pryor legislation would help keep America's roadways safe and automakers more accountable. In the meantime, many safeguards currently exist in the personal injury lawsuit process that serve to hold automakers accountable for injuries caused by defective parts. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving a defective auto part, please contact an experienced attorney to explore your legal options.