A recent article from the New York Times discusses the legal loopholes that make it difficult to punish those in the auto industry who fail to warn about dangerous defective issues with automobiles. This is a troubling issue that showcases the power of the auto industry and lobbyists.
Some of the Examples
The article provides an example where auto industry lobbyists and trade groups prevented the passing of a law requiring car companies to notify regulators of certain defects within five working days. Instead what happened is that they convinced Congress to “water down” the bill so that it only carries civil penalties, not criminal charges if the notification does not occur within the required time. Lawmakers have tried and tried to push for criminal punishment, but the industry is constantly there fighting against it.
Back in the late 1990s, Sen. McCain had introduced a bill that would have made it criminal for auto manufacturers to introduce cars with known safety defects into interstate commerce. However, pressure from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, caused the bill to lessen its harsh stance. Even last year Sen. Blumenthal introduced legislation to impose criminal penalties on corporate officers who knowingly conceal a product that poses a danger of death or injury. But the bill went nowhere.
While federal regulators appear to be cracking down more on these auto companies, handing out some hefty fines in the last year, there seems to be no need to really prevent further potentially dangerous outcomes regarding cars. In fact, the NY Times article mentions that auto companies, like G.M., have created political action committees and donated millions to congressional campaigns in recent years.
The article goes on to make an excellent point, showing that there were some over at BP who were criminally charged for killing brown pelicans in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and yet prosecutors cannot automatically charge G.M. or its employees for the deaths of at least 124 people due to faulty ignition switches.
Transportation Funding Bill
Another article from the New York Times discusses a transportation funding bill and attempts to create better auto safety reform. Lawmakers have tried to attach an auto safety provision to the bill; however, one after another, those proposals were defeated—with one exception. The exception that rental companies are banned from renting cars with unrepaired safety recalls.
Before the meeting regarding the transportation bill, the auto industry had circulated a document to lawmakers stating that these auto safety reforms would “criminaliz[e] the business of manufacturing.”
The article goes on to mention that congressional members will continue to negotiate regarding the bill until it reaches the Senate. On the brightside, I guess that means it’s a possibility that auto safety reforms could happen.
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