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House & Senate Taking Unified Approach to Post-Toyota Auto Safety Bill

The two congressional chairmen with primary jurisdiction over auto safety today vowed to work together on new legislation aimed at staving off a repeat of the debacle facing Toyota, which was recently fined $16 million for failing to promptly inform federal regulators of defects in its cars that sparked millions of recalls.

threatlevel_rockefeller_200x_3.jpgSenate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) (Photo: AP/Wired)

“Recent
vehicle recalls underscore the need to ensure the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration [NHTSA] has the resources, expertise, and authority it needs to
protect consumers from vehicle safety defects,” House Energy & Commerce Committee chief Henry Waxman (D-CA) said in a joint statement issued with Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate commerce panel.

The lawmakers did not indicate how their forthcoming bill would strengthen the existing powers at NHTSA, a part of the U.S. DOT, but several months of high-profile hearings have uncovered several weak spots in the nation's auto safety rules.

For example, documents released to Congress this month showed NHTSA officials pressing Toyota to let car owners know quickly about its defects in September, but the company was ultimately permitted to wait another two months before releasing its plans to fix the recalled vehicles.

Lawmakers from both parties also have raised questions about NHTSA's urgency in responding to consumers. Waxman's committee noted in February that safety agency had fielded 2,600 red flags from Toyota drivers between 2000 and 2010 while opening only a limited probe of potential acceleration flaws.

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