No one can accuse our legislative process of being particularly swift. Even in the midst of one of the most productive congressional sessions in years, it takes plenty of hemming and hawing to push a bill all the way from committee to law. Unfortunately, a group of individuals affected by the recent rash of runaway Toyota vehicles must not have gotten that memo. A group of family members of those who died in instances of unintended acceleration recently met with members of congress to discuss the obstacles facing the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010.

The bill specifically addresses the need for brake override systems on all new cars as well as so-called black boxes, or event data recorders, but it also ensures that federal investigators will be able to quickly access information stored on a vehicle in case of a widespread safety emergency. Meanwhile, the bill has run into some opposition. Most automakers have come out in favor of EDR's, but have found issue with other portions of the legislation.

Other potential snags include worries about the cost of the added technology. As such, proponents of the bill have decided to underscore the need for such a law for fear that the topic will grow cold in the public's memory. Hit the jump for the full press release.

[Source: Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety | Image: Kevin Burkett | CC2.0]
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'No Time To Waste' on Toyota Reform Bill Says Coalition of Victims, Safety & Consumer Groups, Former Agency Administrators

House Committee Leaders Join In Call For Immediate Action In Congress

WASHINGTON, July 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the August Congressional recess nears, family members victimized by faulty cars that accelerated out-of-control gathered on Capitol Hill with key auto safety leaders, House Energy and Commerce Committee chair, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), and committee members Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Rep. Bruce L. Braley (D-IA), to urge passage in Congress of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 (H.R. 5381), commonly referred to as the "Toyota bill."

In a letter to Waxman and top Republican member, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) about the importance of necessary reforms at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency with regulatory authority to conduct vehicle defect recalls, 10 consumer, health and safety groups said, "At least 93 deaths may be associated with the defect, thousands of consumer complaints have been filed and millions of vehicles have been recalled......we support H.R. 5381 because it takes a comprehensive approach that will directly address the fundamental safety problems and systemic oversight issues that have been brought to light."

"If any members of Congress or auto industry executives had the indescribably frightening and deadly experience that I did behind the wheel of my out-of-control Toyota Camry, this bill would already be law," said Bulent Ezal of Pismo Beach, California, speaking at the press conference. "Believe me, I know the difference between a brake and an accelerator, and this bill is stalled, plain and simple, because the auto industry doesn't want it to pass." Ezal's wife, Anne, was killed when their car suddenly accelerated and plunged off a cliff on February 25, 2007.

Among others, major proposed requirements for agency and industry operations included in H.R. 5381 are: upgraded motor vehicle safety standards including accelerator control and brake override systems; development of a new standard ensuring that vehicle electronics provide adequate performance to support safety-based systems; event data recorders (EDRs) in all vehicles to document what occurs in a crash; significantly increased civil penalties up to $200 million; improved safety oversight, such as more information transparency and public access in the agency's early warning information process; imposition of penalties to hold corporate officials civilly liable for submission of false, misleading or incomplete information to NHTSA; restoration of federal judicial redress if people believe NHTSA has illegally denied their petition to open a defect proceeding; and a major increase in funding for the agency that is desperately needed.

On behalf of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Vice President Jacqueline Gillan said, "The Motor Vehicle Safety Act is needed to rein in companies that display a callous disregard for consumers and for the truth, to reduce the number of safety defects that cost countless lives and result in the recall of millions of vehicles each year, and to protect the lives of families who trust that their car will operate safely. When enacted, this legislation will represent a significant improvement in the way safety is regulated, administered and enforced."

Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety, said, "Congress has a chance to fix problems that should never have been allowed to develop in the first place. No amount of industry angst or opposition should stand in the way of H.R. 5381 becoming the law of the land."

Rhonda Smith of Sevierville, Tennessee, thought she would never see her family again when her Lexus 350 ES accelerated to over 100 mph for several miles, on October 12, 2006. "I called Eddie on the Bluetooth phone system to say goodbye," she said, "and I tried everything to slow down the car from almost standing on the brake, very firmly engaging the emergency brake, shifting the car into neutral and shifting to other gears.....We don't want another family to go through this nightmare. We don't want auto companies like Toyota to ignore safety problems, especially because of their greed. But we do want NHTSA to have the resources to identify safety defects and the legal tools to hold automakers responsible for irresponsible behavior. Vehicle safety defects kill and maim innocent victims, and leave heartbreak and mental anguish with the families."

Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA Administrator in the Carter Administration, released a letter addressed to Waxman and Barton and signed by herself and two other former Administrators of NHTSA -- Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D. (Bush Administration), and Ricardo Martinez, M.D. (Clinton Administration) -- expressing strong support for the funding provisions of the bill. "Our letter obviously demonstrates that there has been a funding crisis at NHTSA for years," Claybrook said.

A Vehicle Safety Fund would be created with a tiny fee paid on each new car produced and would be used solely to carry out NHTSA's vehicle safety programs. "User fees are a common method of helping pay for government programs, particularly those affecting public health and safety," the letter said. The fee starts at $3 and grows to $9 by the third year and would be adjusted for inflation. The letter concludes, "we urge you to support the funding provisions in H.R. 5381 and adequately fund NHTSA vehicle safety programs that have saved so many lives each year."

Jack Gillis, Director Public Affairs of the Consumer Federation of America, said, "As the average new car price approaches $28,000, who in America wouldn't pay an extra $9 to help insure the safety of the one item that we purchase that's most likely to kill or injure us? Clearly, this isn't about the $9, what the car companies and U.S. Chamber are objecting to is insuring a fully funded regulatory agency that will hold them accountable to the law."

"H.R. 5381 is a critical piece of consumer safety legislation that will help strengthen NHTSA's ability to address and avert safety problems in the future," said Ami Gadhia, of Consumers Union. "In February 2010, in light of the concerns raised by sudden unintended acceleration in Toyotas, Consumers Union called on NHTSA to require specific safety changes in all new cars: brake override or similar technology to safely stop a car within a safe distance; simple, standard controls to turn off the engine in an emergency; intuitive, clearly labeled transmission shifters; and methods to address pedal entrapment. H.R. 5381 directs NHTSA to make all of these safety improvements."

Mrs. Guadalupe Alberto, formerly of Flint, Michigan, died at age 77 in a sudden acceleration crash on April 19, 2008 when her 2005 Camry hit a large tree six feet above the ground, at an estimated speed of 80 mph. She was described by her family as someone who "drove the same roads to her store every day, drove around Flint and to church, and rarely drove over 45 mph." The crash occurred after a wild struggle through four intersections while she tried to control her car and avoid hitting others. A post-crash investigation revealed that Mrs. Alberto's vehicle did not have her driver's side floor mat installed and the medical examiner found that there were no pre-crash medical conditions that could have contributed to the crash.

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