House panel releases auto safety proposals

WASHINGTON (AP) - New cars and trucks would be required to carry
black boxes to record crash information and automakers would pay
fees to help fund the government's auto safety agency under a
series of proposals in Congress in response to Toyota's massive
The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday released a
draft that could form the basis of legislation to strengthen
vehicle safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration. Lawmakers have vowed to address auto safety after
Toyota recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide and paid a
record $16.4 million government fine for slowly responding to a
The draft legislation, released by Energy and Commerce Chairman
Henry Waxman, D-Calif., would eliminate the cap on civil penalties
an automaker could face and allow NHTSA to order an immediate
recall if it finds an "imminent hazard of death or serious
injury." It would also require new safety standards related to
brake override systems, the prevention of pedals from getting
trapped in floor mats and vehicle electronics.
Toyota has said it will install brake override systems in all
future models and retroactively on some existing ones. The system
automatically disengages the throttle if a driver presses on the
Some Toyota owners have filed lawsuits contending that Toyota's
electronic throttle control systems are to blame for vehicles
suddenly accelerating. The company has insisted electronics are not
causing the problem.
The proposal would require a U.S. auto executive to certify the
accuracy of information submitted to NHTSA in response to a
government investigation. Any executive who provided false
information could face up to $250 million in fines.
Vehicles would be required to be equipped with event data
recorders, commonly known as black boxes, to help authorities
reconstruct the elements that led to a crash.
The plan also creates a "vehicle user fee" of $3 per vehicle,
increasing to $9 in its third year, to fund NHTSA's vehicle safety
program. Safety groups have said the agency is underfunded and
ill-equipped to investigate complicated safety problems.
Waxman's committee is expected to hold a hearing on the proposal
next week and Congress is expected to consider legislation this
Toyota, meanwhile, said it had appointed six outside experts to
an independent panel charged with advising the company on safety
and quality issues. The panel will be led by Rodney Slater, who
served as transportation secretary during the Clinton
Toyota said the panel includes Norman Augustine, a former
chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp.; Patricia Goldman, a
former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board;
and Brian O'Neill, a former president of the Insurance Institute
for Highway Safety.
Slater said the panel hopes to offer insights to Congress as it
reviews the company's safety and quality issues. Panelists have
begun onsite reviews of the company's facilities in the United
States and will travel to Japan in May to meet with senior
Slater said the task force will evaluate the electronic throttle
control systems installed in Toyota and Lexus vehicles and make its
findings public. The group will have access to research conducted
by Exponent, a California consulting firm reviewing Toyota's
electronics, but Slater stressed they could also contact outside
experts if necessary.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met with Japan's transport
minister, Seiji Maehara, on Thursday in advance of a trip to Japan
next month that will include meetings with Toyota executives.
Maehara told reporters that he appreciated the "fair and equal
treatment" of the automaker by U.S. regulators and did not expect
the recalls to affect relations between the two nations.
Toyota said it had resumed sales of the 2010 Lexus GX 460, a
luxury SUV recalled after Consumer Reports warned that the vehicle
could be vulnerable to rollover dangers.
Lexus Group Vice President Mark Templin said a software update
to fix the vehicle stability control system was now available for
the GX 460 and dealers had begun contacting customers to schedule
repairs. Nearly 10,000 vehicles are covered by the recall.
Consumer Reports plans to test the car again after the fix is
installed, the magazine said.
AP Auto Writer Dan Strumpf in New York contributed to this

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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