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Federal bill addresses motor vehicle safety

On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar joined Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller (D-WV) and fellow Commerce Committee members to introduce the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010.

The bill is designed to improve vehicle safety standards to better protect drivers, make vehicle safety information more accessible to consumers, and provide the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with the necessary resources and authority to address vehicle safety defects in the future. The bill follows a series of Toyota recalls that highlighted weaknesses in the government's vehicle safety monitoring system.

"It's time to change the rules of the road and place consumers in the driver's seat," said Klobuchar. "This comprehensive legislation will modernize our nation's vehicle safety standards and ensure auto companies are responsible for the safety of their vehicles."

Among the provisions included in the legislation is a proposal pushed for by Klobuchar that will prevent NHTSA employees from taking jobs in the auto industry for at least three years after they leave the agency. At a March 2, 2010, Commerce Committee hearing on reports of uncontrolled acceleration in Toyota vehicles, Klobuchar highlighted the cozy relationship between the industry and NHTSA and called on Administration officials to answer questions about whether they had all the necessary tools to ensure passenger safety.

In addition to Klobuchar, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Mark Pryor (D-AK), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-CO), and Mark Begich (D-AK). The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 includes the following key provisions:

Safety: Requires the Secretary of Transportation to establish new safety standards on vehicle- stopping distance, brake-override controls, pedal placement, keyless and push button ignitions and event data recorders; creates an incentive program for NHTSA to attract more engineers and technical staff.

NHTSA Authority: Increases the civil penalty for motor vehicle safety violations from $5,000 per violation to $25,000 per violation and the civil penalty for failure to act from $5,000 per day to $25,000 per day; provides the Secretary with imminent hazard authority with a judicial review available to the manufacturer or industry.

Transparency/Accountability: Makes available to the public early warning data, access to NHTSA vehicle safety databases, notification of software updates; establishes a hotline for mechanics, dealers and manufacturing personnel to place confidential safety defect reports with whistleblower protections; requires corporate certification of safety data and establishes civil penalties for falsifying, misleading or filing incomplete reports of up to $50,000 per day ($250,000 maximum) and a criminal penalty for submitting misleading information to the Secretary that leads to death or serious injury (no more 12 months imprisonment); prevents the "revolving door" of NHTSA employees moving into the industry for three years and provides a civil penalty of up to $100,000 for violations by industry or an individual; and requires a study of DOT communication with former vehicle safety employees.

Authorization of Funds: Increases NHTSA's current authorization from its current level of $98.3 million to $280 million in 2013.