As lawmakers continue to grill General Motors CEO Mary Barra, they have started to discuss changing accountability laws that not only includes raising fines but also incarceration.
“Is $35 million enough? I mean, is that really a deterrent to companies like General Motors or Toyota or Chrysler, or any of the companies?” asked U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D.-Missouri). But the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) is not getting away scot-free. “There needs to be a change in the NHTSA statute so the failure to do a recall on a knowing and willful basis is a criminal violation. If you’re responsible for that, you go to jail,” added Joan Claybrook, a consumer-safety advocate and a former agency administrator.
In 2000, the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act was enacted, but Bloomberg.com reports Jay Rockefeller (D.-West Virginia) plans to work with lawmakers to update the law once Congress has more information on what went wrong. “It won’t be driven just by what happened at GM, but also NHTSA. It’s going to happen. There will be a bill,” said Rockefeller. Criminal penalties were originally included in the 2000 act but, according to Claybrook, so many loopholes were added to the final piece of legislation that it never really had the authority to refer a manufacturer to the Justice department.
You can thank Toyota for getting the ball rolling, as last month they agreed to pay the Justice Department $1.2 billion for hiding safety defects pertaining to “uncontrolled” acceleration. As long as the perception exists that “General Motors was not forthcoming to the American people” and that situations like this don’t become “just the cost of business,” we can expect more on this issue regardless of Barra stating “Today, if there is a safety issue, we take action. We’ve moved from a cost culture to a customer culture.”