Congress Continues Review of Vehicle Safety

Safety legislation unlikely in the 113th Congress.


The U.S. Congress continues to review vehicle safety concerns stemming from manufacturer recalls. This includes hearings, legislation and investigations. Although this review was intense during the final weeks of the 113th Congress, no legislation was sent to the president for signature. Congress will most certainly revisit this issue in the 114th Congress next year but that’s unlikely in any lame duck session after the November 2014 elections.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) scheduled a hearing for oversight of the National High­way Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at the close of the 113th Congress. McCaskill is chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance. The focus of the hearing was the “implementation of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21.” The subcommittee also examined the needs of NHTSA’s vehicle safety authority and its administration of highway safety programs.

Witnesses included:

• David Friedman, acting administrator, NHTSA
• Jacqueline S. Gillan, president, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
• Kendall Poole, chairman, Governors Highway Safety Association
• Robert Strassburger, Vehicle Safety and Harmonization, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers

Prior to the hearing, U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) released a committee “Staff Report on the GM Ignition Switch Recall: Review of NHTSA.” In the report, the committee staff identified four key failures of NHTSA related to GM recalls:

NHTSA had ample information to identify a potential safety defect as early as 2007. The agency failed to investigate or even explore the link between the air bags and ignition switch identified in the Wisconsin state trooper’s report or agency-commissioned crash investigation following the fatal crash in Wisconsin.

NHTSA failed to track or identify similarities in three independent investigations it commissioned of crashes involving non-deployment of the frontal air bags on the Chevrolet Cobalt.

NHTSA’s failure to follow-up on information provided to the agency was compounded by a lack of understanding of the vehicle systems and functions implemented in response to the agency’s own standards.

Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate with a goal of improving vehicle safety through various methods. House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Democrat Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has introduced the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2014, H.R. 4364. This bill levies a $3 fee per vehicle sold in the U.S. to offset NHTSA’s safety initiatives.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced more comprehensive vehicle safety legislation earlier in the Congress, as did McCaskill. A number of other bills have also been introduced. These bills, as well as the Energy and Commerce Committee report, can be reviewed on the Automotive Service Association’s legislative website, www.Taking

Vehicle safety policy will roll to the 114th Congress beginning in 2015. No safety legislation will pass this year. Key to the direction of next year’s vehicle safety efforts will be the party controlling the U.S. Senate. Rockefeller is retiring. If the Democrats hold the Senate, there are a number of members to be considered as chairman. If the Senate flips parties, the likely chairman will be John Thune (R-S.D.).

ASA’s Mechanical and Collision Divisions have conducted Capitol Hill fly-ins to discuss these important vehicle safety issues with key members of the House and Senate. ASA has a number of issues relative to vehicle safety and will work with the 114th Congress on these issues.