In Wake of GM Safety Recalls, Markey and Blumenthal Introduce Legislation to Ensure Transparency, More Reporting to Prevent Auto Injuries, Fatalities
Bill would require more information to be reported to public Early Warning Reporting database when auto manufacturers first become aware of incidents involving fatalities
Washington (March 25, 2014) – With dozens of reported injuries and deaths linked to the recall of 1.6 million GM vehicles, including seven injuries in Massachusetts, today Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced legislation to ensure auto manufacturers provide more information about incidents involving fatalities to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The legislation, the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act, would require NHTSA make the information it receives from auto manufacturers publicly available in a searchable, user-friendly format so that consumers and independent safety experts can evaluate potential safety defects themselves. GM has admitted to knowing for at least a decade about the ignition switch defect in Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions that have led to the massive recall, and NHTSA failed to connect the dots using accident reports and other information it had to more quickly and aggressively investigate the defect.
“A massive information breakdown at NHTSA has led to deadly vehicle breakdowns on our roads,” said Senator Markey, a member of Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “The Department of Transportation has the authority to require critical safety information be made publicly available, but it has never used its authority. We need the Early Warning Reporting system to provide actual early warnings to ensure the public is informed and possible defects are fully investigated. I look forward to working with Senator Blumenthal and all of my colleagues to pass this legislation that will protect drivers from injury and possibly death.”
“Timely information can save lives when it reveals lethal defects,” said Senator Blumenthal, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “NHTSA’s job should be to make life-saving information available, not more difficult to access. This up-to-date, accessible database will be a vital tool for drivers and consumer advocates in preventing future harm. I am pleased to join Senator Markey in the effort to implement this innovative solution.”
“In 2000, Congress required a new Early Warning Reporting System for NHTSA to catch safety defects before they killed consumers. In light of the problems revealed with Toyota unintended acceleration and Cobalt airbags, we know EWR is broken and needs to be fixed,” said Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director for the Center for Auto Safety. “Auto companies have run millions of defective vehicles through loopholes in EWR, including not having to submit documents on deaths caused by defects when they first learn of them. The Center for Auto Safety commends Senators Markey and Blumenthal for introducing legislation to close deadly loopholes in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.”
A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.
Specifically, the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act of 2014:
- • Requires automobile and equipment manufacturers to automatically submit the accident report or other document that first alerted them to a fatality involving their vehicle or equipment to NHTSA’s Early Warning Reporting database. NHTSA is then required to automatically make those documents public unless they are exempted from public disclosure under the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). Presently, these documents are only provided to NHTSA if the agency requests them, and they are not made public unless they are requested under FOIA;
- • Requires NHTSA to consider EWR information when it is investigating potential safety defects and when it is evaluating citizen petitions for automobile safety standards or enforcement actions;
- • Requires NHTSA to upgrade its online databases to improve searchability, integrate its different databases so they can all be searched at once, and ensure that all documents obtained or created by NHTSA related to a safety incident are both made publicly available and keyword searchable in its databases; and
- • Requires NHTSA to provide public, searchable notices of all inspection and investigation activities it undertakes.
Last month, Senator Markey asked NHTSA to use its authority to require companies to submit accident reports and other documents to NHTSA’S public early warming reporting database when they become aware of fatalities involving their vehicles. He also requested the documents that GM provided to the NHTSA about fatal accidents in Maryland and Wisconsin, documents related to the Massachusetts accidents that may be related to this defect, and other documents related to how NHTSA officials evaluated this defect when it became aware of it.
During House Energy and Commerce Committee consideration of a 2010 automobile safety bill, a version of a then-Rep. Markey-authored amendment was included that would have made more information about fatalities public in the Early Warning Reporting database. The bill passed Committee but was not enacted.