Highway Bill Would Bolster NHTSA Funding, Authority

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind

The Obama administration’s $478-billion six-year transportation bill calls for tripling funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s defects investigation office, in hopes of more quickly identifying life-threatening auto defects that warrant a safety recall.

The federal agency, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, drew sharp criticism last year for its slow response to complaints about defects tied to Takata air bag inflators and General Motors’ ignition switches. Agency leaders, in turn, cited shortages in funding and staffing.

Dubbed the Grow America Act, the proposed legislation seeks to bolster NHTSA’s authority. The agency would have the power to stop the sale of vehicles that posed an imminent risk of injury or death. NHTSA could make that determination independently, without input from the involved automaker. A pilot program would be established to improve safety recall notification and response rates, by checking for open recalls when a vehicle is registered with a state DMV.

The bill also would raise the maximum penalty that NHTSA could impose on a company that violates a federal safety regulation – from $35 million to $300 million.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx sent the legislation to Congress March 30. The bill would invest $317 billion in roads and bridges and $115 billion in such public transportation options as buses and light rail trains.

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