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Automaker Lobbyists 1, Safety 0

It was probably a foregone conclusion once the Senate came under Republican control in January. The push for auto safety reforms was never likely to succeed once the dollars started flying around Capitol Hill. The latest piece of legislation designed to protect auto consumers hit a major snag last week when a Senate committee struck down several measures designed to protect the people from automotive businesses. The push to allow criminal sanctions against auto executives who hide deadly auto defects was struck down. In addition, a measure that would have prevented used car dealers from selling cars with unrepaired recalls was also defeated. The news was largely bad for anyone without a major financial stake in protecting auto industry leaders.

Among the few measures that the Senate committee did approve was an increase on the maximum civil penalty that can be assessed against automakers that do not cooperate with safety authorities. The current figure, $35 million, has been derided as a drop in the bucket for automakers. General Motors reported a net income of $1.38 billion in the third quarter of 2014, alone. The increased penalty would allow for a $70 million dollar penalty. That figure is still obviously a pittance to automakers and will represent no deterrent whatsoever in keeping them accountable. 

After a record number of vehicles were recalled in 2014, the Senate appears to be motivated to make things easier for the makers of defective vehicles, rather than protecting the people on the roads. That should come as no surprise, given that automakers can afford to spend massively on lobbying and kickbacks and the average car owner has no such clout. It's a sad state of affairs that repeats itself on any number of issues affecting public safety.

Source: The New York Times, "Senate Committee's No Vote Incenses Lawmakers Seeking Auto Safety Reforms," by Aaron M. Kessler, 19 July 2015

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