US: new automotive safety law to increase NHTSA powers, automaker transparency image

General Motors and its decade-long failure to address a critical safety problem triggered a cascade of recalls this year in the automotive industry. With US lawmakers questioning both the automaker and ultimately the auto safety regulators, change was on its way.

The US lawmakers grilled GM’s CEO Mary Barra and other officials and last week even the NHTSA was called in to answer questions about the agency’s inability to detect the safety issues the No.1 automaker had.

Now, a group of House Democrats has moved to put in play an auto safety reform, introducing the Vehicle Safety Improvement Act. The bill will give the NHTSA the power to fine automakers above the current $35 million cap – likely close to the Obama administration mandated $300 million level.

“The Vehicle Safety Improvement Act provides a meaningful response to this year’s motor vehicle recalls, which exposed far too many shortcomings in federal oversight of the safety of our roads,” said Henry Waxman, one of the promoters of the reform. “The bill empowers consumers and holds auto manufacturers accountable for illegal behavior that all too often leads to tragedy.”

The new Vehicle Safety Improvement Act also mandates all carmakers to increase their safety transparency by making publicly available their technical service bulletins, stop ordering “regional” recalls and also keep detailed records about potential flaws for 20 years.