S.1743 Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2015

The answer to yesterday’s Question of the Day 1 is sort of.

On July 9, Senator Bill Nelson (D–FL) introduced S.1743, To provide greater transparency, accountability, and safety authority to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and for other purposes (or Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2015), in Congress. The bill was read twice and then referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Many of the concepts in today’s bill are not new. Indeed, many of the provisions in the bill have passed the Senate before with bipartisan support. …Like the earlier bills, this legislation is predicated on improving four things: transparency, wrongdoer accountability, vehicle safety, and recall effectiveness. — Senator Bill Nelson, statement on S.1743

That the scope of S.1743 is much narrower than that of S.2615 leads me to ask

Question of the Day 1:  Does each industry need its own custom Do the Right Thing or Else bill? Is one bill for all industries too broad, and was that one of the problems senators had with S.2615?

What stayed the same from S.2615 to S.1743:  the removal of the $35 million penalty cap NHTSA is allowed to impose on automakers and imprisonment up to 5 years.

The bill would remove the cap on NHTSA’s civil penalty authority, which is currently at $35 million NHTSA’s civil penalty authority must be bolstered to deter highly profitable corporations from violating safety laws. Otherwise, we get what we have now: companies treating NHTSA’s civil penalties as a mere cost of doing business. Just look at the GM case, where the maximum $35 million civil penalty represented less than 1/1000 of GM’s quarterly revenues, which is over $35 billion. In addition, the bill would impose criminal penalties on corporate executives who knowingly conceal the fact that their product poses a danger of death or serious injury. Corporate executives who hide serious dangers from the public shouldn’t get off the hook. — Senator Bill Nelson, statement on S.1743

One of the goals of S.1743 is to improve the effectiveness of recall campaigns, and that’s good. But given that I was sold a new car with a defect that caused water damage, quality control is an underlying issue, and perhaps the very root that allowed for safety problems (e.g., GM ignition switches, Toyota unintended acceleration) to reach unprecedented levels today.

Question of the Day 2:  Why are there so many recalls in the first place? At what point are manufacturers burdening consumers by manufacturing cars with defects as a baseline?

The fact that Chrysler was able to produce a defective car, a car that incurred water damage, and was then sold to a customer (me) as new, and then to stick the consumer with subsequent problems isn’t right. No one is holding Chrysler or Dulles Motorcars accountable, so it’s no wonder that this behavior/corporate culture mindset expands to safety issues. So Senator Nelson is right in saying there will be more recalls in the future. Indeed, Fiat Chrysler is recalling 99k 2015 Jeep Cherokees in the U.S. for water leaks that could lead to fire. I’ve read the news reports, but have not heard anything from Chrysler about my Jeep.

The American public demands that we do something meaningful to keep them safe on the road. There will be more recalls in the future–it is inevitable. And the consequences can be deadly. But they don’t have to be. Improving the recall process can and will save lives. I realize our bill may not get us to l00 percent completion of recalls or perfect motor vehicle safety, but I am confident that it would go a long way towards improving recall effectiveness, adding practical safety technologies to vehicles, and making Americans safer on our nation’s roads and highways. — Senator Bill Nelson, statement on S.1743

Of course the recall process will degrade when manufacturers can’t keep up with their own defects and design flaws. What consumers really need

  • Quality products:  safe, reliable cars that will last
  • Fewer recalls in the first place
  • Better warranties
  • Penalties for automakers that have too many defects

What is sad is that these laws need to be enacted at all, because people don’t know what it means to do the right thing, and refuse to put people before profits.

Question of the Day 3:  If manufacturers and dealers think that selling brand new cars with defects and low quality parts with a short shelf life is okay as a baseline, then should we increase the amount of time a consumer has to file a lemon law? (In Virginia, a consumer has 18 months.)

When I took Jeep #4 back the second week, because I believed that lesser amounts of water were still getting in, the service manager took a few minutes to speak with me. Don’t let the title “service manager” fool you, she is a slick salesman like the rest. She tried to play what she perceived as my unhappiness with my new car and urged me to trade it in on something else. (It’s not the car. It’s how customers are treated that bothers me. Defects happen, and they should be the exception not the rule. The right thing for Dulles Motorcars to do was to allow me to return the Jeep and give me a full refund.) Through the grace of God I said none of the things begging to roll off my tongue, but rather told her and the customer service rep “God Bless You” and got into #4 and drove away saying “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

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