Congress Weakening Auto Safety Bill at Industry’s Behest
by Matthew Madia
Jun 8, 2010
Congressional Democrats are already watering down legislation that would require better safety features in new cars, the Washington Post reports today. Auto industry lobbyists are finding sympathy in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers are preparing to consider an auto safety bill crafted in response to the fiasco surrounding recalled Toyota vehicles.
For example, in earlier versions of the bill, the [Department of Transportation] would have been required to set uniform standards for pedal construction and placement in two years and automakers would have been required to incorporate those standards in vehicles by 2014. The current versions of the legislation do not spell out those deadlines, and the standards would be set only if the transportation secretary deems it "necessary."
Removing the deadline is troubling, because it could mean that thousands of new cars purchased in one or more model years will not need to meet the stricter standards. There is also a big difference between delegating the task of determining the details of a rule and delegating the task of determining whether the rule is necessary in the first place. The former makes Congress’s word the ultimate authority. The latter gives a secretary the ability to refuse to require new safety features and gives future secretaries the ability to eliminate requirements on a whim.
Given the current regulatory environment, in which some major corporations are proving themselves incapable of self-regulation, and in light of the growing sentiment that government is not doing enough to solve and prevent crises like the BP oil spill, one would think Congress would want to get tough on certain industries, like the auto industry, and advance a public protection agenda.
Instead, corporate lobbyists are finding it as easy as ever to walk the corridors of Capitol Hill. “A spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said that some of the deadlines in earlier versions of the legislation were unrealistic because research needed to set standards is not complete,” according to the Post. The Alliance’s objection appear to have been heeded.
“Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, defended the House bill, saying it would ‘dramatically improve the safety of motor vehicles’,” the Post story says.
True, the bill, if passed, will likely improve auto safety across the board. Democrats appear interested in making sure new cars include data event recorders, or so-called black boxes, that can help investigators better determine causes of accidents. The bill is also likely to boost resources at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the DOT agency responsible for auto safety regulation that has come under fire in the wake of the Toyota recall.
Still, the auto industry’s influence should set off warning bells for the public as the bill moves through the House and Senate. The bill, which was approved by Waxman’s committee May 26, could reach the House floor this week, according to the Post.
Image by Flickr user Werner Kunz, used under a Creative Commons license.