May 6, 2010 / 5:53 PM / 9 years ago

Regulator backs plan to boost auto recall power

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. auto safety regulator welcomed on Thursday proposals in Congress to sharply boost government powers for forcing vehicle recalls.

David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), told lawmakers that recall and other provisions in draft legislation would give the agency significantly more leverage.

“Whether its negotiating with manufacturers or the ability for the agency to move forward in a mandatory fashion — those are the core of what want to achieve,” Strickland said.

“We want to take the risks off the road as quickly as we can,” Strickland said at a House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the bill.

NHTSA has the authority to force a recall, but the legal process can be lengthy and costly. Regulators commonly negotiate recalls with carmakers, which then act voluntarily to notify vehicle owners.

New auto safety legislation in the House and Senate stems from scrutiny of Toyota Motor Corp recalls of more than 6.5 million vehicles in the United States for unintended acceleration in 2009 and 2010.

NHTSA has been criticized by Congress and safety advocates during the Toyota saga for not being tough enough with the Japanese automaker and other companies over the years.

Legislative proposals would permit regulators to force recalls when they determine that doing so would prevent an imminent safety risk.

U.S. and overseas automakers, through their trade groups, told lawmakers that the tough recall provision was overly broad and could wind up restricting the views of manufacturers, possibly making it unconstitutional.

Reporting by John Crawley, editing by Gerald E. McCormick

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