US: Senate proposal comes with increased penalties, additional funds image

The US Senate is now considering whether to approve an expected 6-year road-and-bridge funding program that also touches the issue of auto regulatory safety.

Under the proposal, the lawmakers clear a path to doubling the upwards limit on civil penalties against carmakers to $70 million and also adds more funds to vehicle safety as long as the federal regulators implement some changes. The legislation – a 1,080-page document voted in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee – could end a stalemate for transportation authorization. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would receive the additional funds it has been asking for only if the Obama administration transportation secretary pledges to implement the needed improvements showcased by the inspector general in a recent investigation. During a recent Senate hearing in front of the committee, the federal safety agency was panned for not having a faster reaction to recent safety flaws the brought millions of vehicles in for recalls. Inspector General Calvin Scovel added in the audit of NHTSA the agency’s internal operations were having numerous issues – from delivering too little guidance to carmakers to being slow to react to defect data.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind has said that since the investigation showed its conclusions and after internal probes of its practices, the agency has already started implementing changes and more would come in the near future. The revised bill – which will be on Senate debate following a vote Wednesday night – would also raise the cap for penalties imposed to transgressing automakers from $35 million to $70 million.