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New auto-safety bill doesn't do enough to protect Americans

Despite recent car recalls that cover tens of millions of vehicles, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act would underfund NHTSA

Published: July 17, 2015 02:15 PM

The ignition switch in GM some cars was linked to many deadly accidents before a recall.
Photo: Michael Spooneybarger/Reuters

Last year, automakers recalled nearly 64 million vehicles for safety problems. That was more recalled cars and trucks than the previous three years combined. And the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said there could be another increase in recalls in 2015.

You have probably read the tragic stories about deaths and injuries linked to General Motors’ defective ignition switches and Takata’s potentially explosive airbags, which together helped spark this massive wave of recalls. These incidents have exposed serious problems, not only among the car companies but also at NHTSA, the government agency that works to ensure our cars and roads are safe.

NHTSA has initiated reforms to be more proactive, but to fulfill its mission, it needs Congress to step up and provide the necessary resources and enforcement tools.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering proposals to authorize federal transportation programs for the next few years. A Senate committee just approved a bill that could come up for a vote by the full Senate later this month.

This auto-safety bill, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act (S. 1732), aims to advance auto safety, but it has several major flaws. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, opposes the bill as currently written and urges senators to make significant changes to the legislation.

Find out whether your car has been recalled and get more information from our driving safety guide. And uncover the truth about car recalls.

One of our primary concerns is that the Senate is not authorizing enough funding or tools for NHTSA to adequately collect safety data, analyze trends, or identify defects. NHTSA is chronically underfunded and understaffed. The agency’s Office of Defects Investigation has only 50 employees responsible for identifying safety defects in more than 265 million passenger cars on our roads. That’s fewer than it had in 2002, despite an ever-increasing workload.

This auto-safety bill also fails to address a long-standing problem with recalled used cars. It’s hard to believe, but under federal law it is perfectly legal for an auto dealer to sell you a used car under a safety recall before it is repaired. We have long advocated for changing the law, but this bill preserves the status quo.

The bill does address a related issue by requiring rental-car companies to get recalled vehicles fixed before they are rented, which we have also been advocating for years. We are appreciative that senators have added this provision, but they should do the same for used cars.

Plus, the auto-safety bill does not meaningfully improve truck safety, which can affect all drivers and passengers. Truck crash fatalities have increased 17 percent and truck crash injuries have increased 28 percent over the last four years. Some senators have recommended beefing up the bill’s provisions for truck safety, but to no avail so far.

NHTSA was created to help save lives. Congress must do more to support the agency and help it get the job done. We urge you to contact your senators today and tell them to stand up for auto safety.   

Has your car been recalled? Share your experience with other readers by leaving a comment below.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

Read past installments of our Policy & Action feature.








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