US prosecutor says automaker probes will continue if illegal activities don’t stop image

The federal prosecutor who conducted the US investigation into GM’s fatal ignition switch recall believes the public is now safer and the auto industry will take notice of the consequences of illegal actions.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan commented during a recent interview that his prosecutors have delivered a safer environment for US motorists, by delivering a message to the carmakers: failure to uphold the law will result in probes and prosecutions. His office was adamant to the investigation of law violations by the automakers. Back in September General Motors was ordered a $900 million consent decree following charges of two felony counts. The automaker will now be monitored as part of the deferred prosecution agreement. Back in March last year Toyota also paid $1.2 billion as part of its own deferred prosecution agreement and is also being supervised for three years by former U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley. “I think criminal corporate resolutions like the ones in Toyota and GM, the first of their kind in the auto industry, make a difference,” commented Bharara. “I would think the management and boards of other car companies have had discussions about how to avoid going through the same thing and have considered reporting and correcting safety issues sooner than they otherwise might have.”

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the lead authority in terms of auto safety, has limited penalty power – they imposed fines of $35 million on GM and of around $50 million on Toyota. Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, meanwhile believes the true breaking point would be to have legislation that allows prosecutors to get auto executives in jail because of unsafe vehicles.