The Bill before Congress

After the faulty accelerator pedals and brake problems of more than 8 million Toyota vehicles that reportedly caused the death of 52 people, the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee (HRECC) has drafted a bill that will make the auto industry meet new safety standards, and impose stricter penalties on companies that fail to promptly report safety defects to the appropriate governmental safety agency.

This bill would empower the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to order immediate safety recalls where necessary, and would remove the existing cap on civil penalty that a car company could face in civil suits.

The installation of what the HRECC calls “black boxes”, also known as Event Data Recorders (EDR), would also be mandatory. These black boxes would record crash information 60 seconds before the accident and 15 seconds afterward, which would allow authorities to reconstruct a more complete picture of the elements that contribute to accidents and help determine their causes.

Mandatory implementation of new brake override systems would also be ordered to prevent further senseless deaths like those that resulted from pedals getting trapped under floor mats and vehicle electronic malfunctions. These systems would automatically reduce power to the engine if a driver presses on the brake and gas simultaneously, something that would provide peace of mind for many drivers who have become concerned about safety issues since the recalls began.

Toyota Responds

In an effort to rectify matters and restore positive public opinion, Toyota has gotten a jump on these proposed changes by stated that they intend to install brake override systems on all of their new models and retroactively on some of their existing ones. Toyota also plans to implement several of the other changes mentioned in the bill.

They have addressed charges of their making late safety reports by explaining they have already installed EDR devices in many of their cars, but have slow, or incomplete data because they currently have various EDR devices installed on their vehicles. Some of the installed EDR devices record pre-crash, others post-crash, and some models have devices that record both. Since the devises are so varied, vehicle speed, accelerator angle, brake application, engine speed, and other information is not obtainable for every make and model. However, they plan to have all vehicles upgraded by the end of 2010 so all makes and models will have both pre and post-crash recorders installed.

Toyota says that because the software that the devices is still in testing phase, the result has been that until recently there was only one prototype in the U.S. that would extract the EDR data – and that is the reason they attribute to limiting the readout requests. This was set to be remedied by the end of April, when they were scheduled to finish the reading software.

The Result

Safety advocates are angered that NHTSA has not been tougher on automotive companies and is pressuring congress to pass this bill to force their hand in enforcing stricter safety measures. Toyota will likely be the hardest hit of the companies, as they have already been fined a record $16.4 million for their tardy recall response time and have yet to pay the estimated minimum of $3 billion dollars to motorists who have been affected by the faulty vehicles. If the bill is passed, Toyota and other companies are likely to face further fines and imposed safety measures – fines which will ultimately be passed on to automotive consumers as they pay for more expensive, but safer, cars.