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House Approves Sweeping Overhaul of Auto Safety Laws

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In a move that will protect drivers and pedestrians alike, The House and Energy Commerce Committee approved a sweeping overhaul of auto safety laws by a vote of 31-21 on Wednesday. Among the most surprising boosts to the bill was the last-minute support of Representative John Dingell (D-Dearborn), a key ally of the auto industry, who agreed to endorse a revised version of the bill.

The bill is a compromise from earlier proposals and addresses many concerns of automakers. Additionally, the bill also leaves final decisions to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration instead of writing specific requirements into the law. Particularly, while the bill requires “black box” recorders in all new vehicles, it does not include specific requirements such as the number of seconds black boxes must record before and after an accident. However, the bill does include brake technology requirements to enable drivers to stop runaway cars, which would help to prevent accidents like the Toyota sudden acceleration tragedies. The committee also voted unanimously to include a requirement that automakers equip all new “quiet cars”—gasoline-electric hybrids whose engines shut off when stopped—with an alert for blind pedestrians.

Despite the fact that these new requirements would help prevent needless accidents and subsequent injuries or deaths, Republicans and automakers complained about the requirements of the bill. In particular, Republicans argued that a $3 fee on all new car sales would deter people from buying a car. Similarly, Republican lawmakers also argued that an approved $40 million to research ways to expand in-vehicle systems to prevent drunk drivers from starting their car was “extreme overkill” and would eventually lead to all drivers “having to pass a drug test”. Automakers also complained that more legal obstacles to road safety would emerge because of new provisions in the bill that give state court judges and juries authority over auto safety decisions when they lack the “automotive expertise” to do so. The bill now moves to the House floor for voting.