Cantwell Urges New Standards to Improve Automobile Safety

With colleagues, introduces legislation crafted in response to Congressional hearings on Toyota recalls

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller and others in introducing legislation to establish industry-wide safety standards designed to prevent unintended acceleration in new passenger vehicles. The 38-page Motor Vehicle Safety Act requires auto manufacturers to incorporate an electronic data recorder (EDR) in each new vehicle to collect crash information. At present, inclusion of an EDR is voluntary. The Act instructs the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to revise its technical specifications for EDRs, allowing them to record additional useful vehicle operational information before and after crashes and in situations that could lead to crashes.
“Recent tragic accidents involving unintended acceleration in passenger vehicles have shed light on significant gaps both in industry and government in our ability to assess vehicle safety,” Senator Cantwell said. “Computers now run many vehicle functions, including acceleration, yet our highway safety administration does not have one software engineer to assess these systems for safety, and only two electronics engineers. With more and more vehicles relying on electronic systems, it is absolutely essential we bring our industry standards up to speed and increase the chances that we can discover and respond to problems before accidents occur.”
The Act addresses several issues that came to light as a result of the Congressional hearings into the recent Toyota recalls. Among other things, the legislation:
  • Empowers the NHTSA Administrator to stop further sales of a vehicle if a defect creates an imminent hazard that could lead to deaths and serious injuries
  • Requires manufacturers to make EDRs readable by commercially available devices
  • Requires minimum distances between floor pedals and the vehicle floor, and any other potential obstructions, to address the potential for out-of-place floor mats
  • Increases NHTSA’s capacity to address motor vehicle safety issues that involve electronics and software
  • Provides additional resources for NHTSA, doubling its authorization level over the next three years from $140 million in fiscal year 2010 to $280 million in fiscal year 2013
  • Increases civil penalties per vehicle from $5,000 to $25,000 and removes the overall cap on civil penalties for auto manufacturers that intentionally fail to report vehicle safety defects to NHTSA or that intentionally provide misleading information to NHTSA
  • Makes better motor vehicle safety information available to NHTSA and to the public; and
  • Includes an anti-revolving door provision prohibiting former NHTSA employees from working for any entity regulated by NHTSA for a period of three years after leaving the agency, if that position involves communicating with NHTSA or giving advice regarding vehicle safety regulations.
To learn more about what the bill does, click here to view an extended summary.
Over the past several months, Senator Cantwell has been actively assisting a constituent in gaining access to EDR data from a 2007 fatal accident in Washington state that may have involved unintended acceleration. Chris Eves, 29, of Bellingham, was killed in an accident on October 17, 2007, while driving a 2007 Toyota Tundra. Two years later, Toyota recalled that vehicle, among other Toyota models, for problems with the driver-side floor mat and accelerator pedal. Toyota had initially refused to provide readout data from the EDR in Eves’ vehicle. On March 2, 2010, at a Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, Senator Cantwell secured a commitment from Yoshimi Inaba, President and Chief Executive Officer of Toyota Motor North America, Inc., to provide the read-out of the EDR data to Ron and Lori Eves, Chris’ parents. Event data that could help provide additional information as to the circumstances surrounding the accident is being analyzed.
“Requiring electronic data recorders be mandatory and readable by commercially available devices will ensure that families such as the Eves do not have to wait years to learn the details of accidents involving loved-ones,” Senator Cantwell said.
Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s discussion with Mr. Inaba on March 2, 2010. (Senator Cantwell’s opening statement begins at 07:45, and her Q&A begins at 45:30.)