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Senate Dems Unveil Auto Safety Legislation

Democrats are moving quickly on their plan to take a unified
approach
to auto safety reforms in the aftermath of the Toyota
recalls, with Senate Commerce Committee members releasing a new bill
today that would quintuple the maximum existing penalties for carmakers
who -- like Toyota -- fail to promptly notify the public of defective
products.

The Commerce panel's bill, released yesterday by panel chairman Jay
Rockefeller's (D-WV) office, also would authorize $300 million in
additional funding over the next three years for auto safety enforcement
and provide whistleblower protections to car industry employees who
notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of
possible safety risks.

The lifting of existing caps on per-vehicle penalties is likely to
please safety advocates such as Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen, who
have called
for
much higher penalties for automakers found to be in violation
of NHTSA standards. Toyota has
agreed to
a record-high $16.4 million fine for its slow response to
the widespread defects found in its gas pedals but did not acknowledge
any improper actions.

In addition to the Commerce panel's release today -- check out a
full summary of the bill after the jump -- the House Energy &
Commerce Committee is planning a Thursday
hearing
on auto safety issues.

(ed. note. This post was corrected from an original draft that
improperly totaled the additional NHTSA funding.)

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