In wake of GM recall, Senators introduced legislation to increase transparency and earlier reporting of auto defects

Washington (July 17, 2014) – Today at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on the GM recalls, GM CEO Mary T. Barra expressed her support for components of the legislation introduced by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that would ensure more transparency and earlier reporting of safety issues to prevent auto injuries and fatalities. The legislation, S. 2151 the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act, would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (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 historic recall, while NHTSA failed to act more quickly and aggressively on accident reports and other information it had to investigate the defect.

“We support efforts to make the NHTSA website more accessible and useful,” said Ms. Barra in response to a question from Senator Markey on whether GM would support the legislation. “We also support efforts to make reports on fatalities and early warning data more available to the public as long as the right provisions are there to protect privacy and to protect confidential information from an overall perspective.” 

Specifically, the Early Warning Reporting System Improvement Act:

• 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 (EWR) 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.