WASHINGTON, March 25 As General Motors comes
under scrutiny by the U.S. Congress for its handling of a
long-running problem with ignition switches linked to 12 deaths,
two senators on Tuesday offered legislation aimed at improving
the auto industry's reporting of safety problems.
Democratic Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and
Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced a bill that would
require automobile manufacturers to provide more information
about fatal accidents involving their vehicles and better public
access to those reports.
On April 1 the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold
its first hearing into GM's handling of last month's
recall of 1.6 million cars because of faulty ignition switches
that can shut off engines and safety equipment during operation,
sometimes at high speeds.
The recalls came well over a decade after the safety problem
first came to GM's attention.
A Senate Commerce panel also aims to hold a GM hearing in
early April, although the date has not been finalized.
It is not yet clear whether the House and Senate
investigations of GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration will lead to new legislation being enacted this
Markey said a legislative fix was necessary after "a massive
information breakdown at NHTSA has led to deadly vehicle
breakdowns on our roads."
In 2000, Congress passed a law requiring an early warning
reporting system for NHTSA to catch safety defects.
The two senators want to beef up that law by requiring
automakers and auto equipment manufacturers to automatically
submit accident reports and other documents that alert them to
fatalities involving their equipment.
The information would have to be publicly released, unless
they are exempted from the Freedom of Information Act.
Currently, the industry documents are provided to NHTSA if
the federal agency requests them and are not automatically made
public unless requested under FOIA, the senators said.
"Timely information can save lives when it reveals lethal
defects," Blumenthal said.
GM CEO Mary Barra is scheduled to testify on April 1 to the
House Energy and Commerce Committee. NHTSA Acting Administrator
David Friedman is also expected to be at the hearing.
Committee Chairman Fred Upton, asked by Reuters on Tuesday
whether he also wants to question former GM executives about
their knowledge of the faulty ignition switches, did not dismiss
"We'll see where it takes us," he said of the panel's
investigation and the April 1 hearing.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Stephen Powell)