Fuel Smarts

Firestone Tire Recall Triggers Punitive Legislation

September 21, 2000

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Truck tires may not be affected by the Firestone recall, but the incident has triggered legislation that could affect truck manufacturers.

Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, introduced a bill that would reform the equipment recall process and crack down on manufacturers that knowingly sell unsafe equipment.
McCain’s bill (S. 3059), which cleared the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee this week, would place the burden on manufacturers to report product performance information to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Manufacturers would have to provide data on claims, warranty performance and lawsuits. And the bill would set criminal penalties for knowingly selling equipment with a safety-related defect that causes death or serious injury.
Other provisions:
* The cap on civil penalties would rise from $900,000 to $15 million.
* Requirements for manufacturer notification would be extended to foreign sales of equipment sold in the U.S.
* The tire safety standard would have to be upgraded.
* The Secretary of Transportation could stop operations of school and commercial buses if a defect presents an imminent hazard.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is waving an even sharper stick. Under his bill (S. 3014), someone who knowingly sells a defective product that causes a death could be convicted of second degree murder and sent to jail for 15 years. The penalty for a product that causes serious injury would be five years in jail.
Manufacturers say they are concerned about the criminal penalties in the bills, and about their effect on relations with NHTSA. Truck makers have a constructive relationship with the safety agency now, and a law that brands manufacturers as potential criminals would jeopardize that relationship, one representative said.
The Truck Manufacturers Assn. is aware of the legislation but is not prepared to comment yet, a spokesman said.
Another trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, supports a faster flow of product information between builders and the government.
But the criminal penalty provisions in the bills are a bad idea, the alliance said.
“They could have the unintended effect of slowing down the flow of consumer information,” said AAM president and CEO Josephine Cooper.
Alliance members, including DaimlerChrysler, Ford, General Motors, Volvo, Mitsubishi and Nissan, have committed themselves to voluntarily report their foreign safety recalls to NHTSA, on equipment that also is sold in the U.S.

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