Auto industry executives who cover up or conceal the death and injury risks of defective vehicles or parts could face up to five years in prison, under legislation filed in the Senate late Thursday by three leading Democrats.
The bill also removes a $35-million cap on civil fines that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could impose on automakers for safety violations.
"If the recent rash of recalls tells us anything, it's that we must do a much better job of protecting the driving public while holding automakers and regulators more accountable," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in a statement.
The legislation is sponsored by Nelson, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).
The legislation calls for all new vehicles to have a warning system that notifies drivers that their car is subject to a safety recall and would require dealers to check for and fix safety defects subject to open recalls when consumers take their cars in for routine maintenance.
Used-car dealers would also be required to fix safety defects in vehicles before selling them. The bill would also eliminate the 10-year limitation on auto and parts manufacturers to fix defects at no charge to consumers.
Senate Republicans also introduced a comprehensive surface transportation reauthorization bill with auto safety reforms.
"There have been significant management failures at the agency (NHTSA) responsible for vehicle recalls linked to fatalities," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) in a statement. "This is our opportunity to address failures and make agencies more responsive to common sense public needs and more accountable to taxpayers."
This bill promotes crash-avoidance technology by adding a requirement that crash-avoidance information, such as active braking and lane-tracking technology, be included next to the five-star information on the car sticker for consumers purchasing new vehicles.
The Republican-backed bill seeks to improve consumer awareness of vehicle safety recalls. It would require franchised dealers and car-rental companies to provide consumers with notification of open safety recalls.
It would also increase the time consumers have to seek a free remedy for tire recalls and creates a state pilot grant to inform consumers of open vehicle recalls at the time of motor-vehicle registration.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold a July 15 hearing to consider the competing auto safety legislation.
Honda on Thursday announced it is adding 4.5 million vehicles to the Takata global recall for defective airbags. But American Honda said the type of airbag inflator involved in this recall was not installed on any vehicles sold in the U.S. or Canada and that the recall does not affect any vehicles here.
Edmunds says: Legislators want to prevent similar safety lapses in the future with this push for auto-safety reform.