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House committee softens pedal requirements for automakers

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House committee softens pedal requirements for automakers

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- Congressional leaders are softening a plan to force government safety regulators to set new rules on the placement of accelerator pedals.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's panel that oversees auto safety will hold a hearing on Thursday afternoon to consider amendments to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010, a wide-ranging rewrite of U.S. safety laws.

But the committee is sidestepping some of the most controversial measures, including granting auto safety regulators sweeping power to order the immediate recall of vehicles, as talks continue.

The Senate Commerce Committee plans a similar session next week and holds its first session on the bill today. Lawmakers want to revamp auto safety laws before Congress goes home this summer to campaign.

In the initial draft, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would have been required to set a "safety standard that would prevent potential obstruction of pedal movement in passenger vehicles by establishing minimum clearances for passenger vehicle foot pedals with respect to other pedals (and) the vehicle floor" within two years.

Automakers said that timeline could force expensive, wholesale changes in vehicles too quickly.

Now, NHTSA has authority to study whether the standards are necessary

According to the latest, 26-page draft of the bill, NHTSA would have to impose within four years standards that are "reasonable, practicable and appropriate."

A memo to members of Congress from aides to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the committee's chairman, said the push for an auto safety overhaul has been prompted by a series of Toyota recalls of 8.5 million vehicles worldwide over sudden acceleration concerns.

Toyota Motor USA sales president Jim Lentz and NHTSA administrator David Strickland will testify at a separate hearing Thursday in front of an oversight subcommittee.

"Members raised concerns about whether NHTSA has the resources and the capability to conduct in-depth investigations into new and complex systems in vehicles, and to evaluate manufacturers' claims about the operations of their vehicles," the memo said.

The bill was "drafted to address these and other concerns about NHTSA's ability to ensure the safety of vehicles on the road."

Waxman has proposed allowing NHTSA to immediately recall vehicles, halt production or block imports if it determines that vehicles pose an "imminent hazard." It also would boost civil penalties and lift the current $16.4 million cap on fines per recall.

The provisions are not in the bill that will be considered Thursday, "in order to allow for continued member discussions." But Waxman said he expects "that provisions addressing these two issues will be included in the legislation" before it is taken up by the full House.

Waxman's bill also mandates auto black boxes and brake override systems to allow the stopping of runaway vehicles.

The Waxman bill would double NHTSA's enforcement budget by initially adding a $3 fee on all new car sales. It also would give consumers the right to appeal the rejection of their safety complaints and hike penalties for automakers and executives caught violating auto safety laws.

The fee would rise to $9 over three years and raise at least $100 million annually to support NHTSA.

The new event data recorders proposed for all vehicles would collect far more data than current ones that are in some vehicles -- 60 seconds before a crash, and 15 seconds afterward.

Toyota paid $16.4 million for delaying a recall of 2.3 million vehicles over sticky pedal concerns by at least four months. If the Waxman bill had been law, NHTSA could have imposed a $69 billion penalty.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100519/AUTO01/5190397/1148/House-committee-softens-pedal-requirements-for-automakers#ixzz0oPKRen3e

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