Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutionsby Senator John Thune
Posted on 2015-01-29
THUNE (for himself, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Heller, Mrs.
McCaskill, Ms. Klobuchar, Ms. Ayotte, Mr. Moran, and Mr.
S. 304. A bill to improve motor vehicle safety by encouraging the
sharing of certain information; to the Committee on Commerce, Science,
Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, last year we saw an all-time record number of motor vehicle recalls, including those by General Motors, Toyota, Honda, and others.
The commerce committee held five vehicle safety hearings, examining GM ignition switches, Takata airbags, and the related question of whether the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, is up to the task of providing effective oversight of the auto industry.
What is absolutely clear, from our hearings and other media coverage, is that we need to ensure potential vehicle safety defects are identified as early as possible so we can protect consumers and hopefully prevent deaths and injuries. That is why earlier today Senator Nelson and I introduced the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act.
I am pleased to note that Senators Heller, McCaskill, Klobuchar, Ayotte, Moran, and Blumenthal have cosponsored this important legislation. Senators Moran and Blumenthal being added as original cosponsors of this legislation is important because of their respective responsibilities as the chairman and ranking member of our subcommittee on consumer protection, which has played a large role over the years on various automobile safety efforts.
This afternoon I am pleased that Senator Nelson has joined me on the floor as a lead sponsor to discuss this important piece of legislation and our ongoing work on vehicle issues. As the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, one thing that has remained constant on our committee is the spirit of bipartisanship.
With regard to S. 304, the Motor Vehicle Whistleblower Act, this legislation will incentivize auto employees who uncover serious allegations of vehicle defects or violations of motor vehicle safety laws that could lead to death or serious bodily injury to voluntarily provide that information to the Department of Transportation.
If such information leads to the Department of Transportation or the Department of Justice enforcement action that totals more than $1 million in penalties, the whistleblower would be eligible to share in a portion of the total penalties collected. This bill will protect the whistleblowers' identities and allow DOT to share information with the Department of Justice and other Federal agencies where appropriate.
Other agencies have similar programs, including programs that incentivize individuals to report information to the Securities and Exchange Commission and to the Internal Revenue Service. NHTSA plays a key role in ensuring the safety of vehicles that consumers drive on our roadways. Record fines have been levied against Toyota, General Motors, Honda, and other manufacturers.
In 2014, NHTSA issued more than $126 million in civil penalties, a record amount, exceeding the total amount collected by the agency in all of its 43-year history.
Ensuring the safety of American motorists is a priority, but the public's trust has been shaken due to the record number of recalls this past year. Almost 64 million vehicles were recalled in 2014, which is about 3 times the number of vehicles recalled in 2013--and the concerns many have about problems in the industry and at NHTSA.
After my repeated calls on the President to fill what had been a lengthy vacancy regarding the Administrator position at NHTSA, which operated without a Senate-confirmed Administrator for 389 days, I am glad to say the commerce committee did its job to ensure that Dr. Mark Rosekind was confirmed as Administrator before the end of last year. However, there is much more work that needs to be done.
The defects associated with the GM ignition switch recall and the Takata airbag recalls were apparent failures with serious safety consequences that resulted in death and serious injury. As we learned from the GM incident, delays in reporting safety-related defects to the government can cost lives.
In recent years, Congress has enacted, and NHTSA sought to implement, a robust early-reporting regime. I believe we can do more to ensure that NHTSA is informed of potential defects as early as possible. Some of the major automakers and other manufacturers have also instituted or sought to improve internal safety reporting systems that encourage employees to report safety problems.
I applaud these efforts, but reports of employees whose concerns may have been ignored, silenced, or possibly even covered up persist. If there are potential whistleblowers with important information to help NHTSA identify more defects that are not being addressed, we want them to come forward so these problems can be identified much earlier in the process.
I think we would all agree it is better to address a problem before injuries or deaths occur, if at all possible, rather than relying primarily on fines imposed after the fact. This is a commonsense, bipartisan bill that will help to prevent injuries and deaths for American drivers.
NHTSA and other stakeholders have provided input on this legislation. I look forward to working with these groups and my colleagues, and particularly with Senator Nelson, as we move forward with the committee to process and pass this legislation.
I yield the floor to Senator Nelson for his remarks.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Florida.