Possible GM Fine: Questions About Both NHTSA and GM and What We Can Do

Dear Care for Crash Victims Community Members:

Sen. Markey is now inquiring into GM and NHTSA failures to protect American motorists.


Joan Claybrook has noted below that a maximum fine by NHTSA may be $17 million.

How does a fine of $17 million compare:

    • with 13 crash deaths?
    • with NHTSA’s Enforcement Budget of about $19 million?
    • with open ended GM payments to an un-named law firm it has hired?
    • with GM CEO pay? GM CEO pay is $14.4 million per year.

See http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2014/02/10/gm-ceo-barra-akerson-pay-compensation/5374869/

DOT policy values a statistical life at $9.2 million. See attached DOT memo

What if there are more than 13 crash deaths?“Thirteen deaths and 31 crashes in which air bags failed to deploy have been linked to the issue.

NHTSA said in a statement it has “opened an investigation into the timeliness of General Motors’ recall of faulty ignition switches to determine whether GM properly followed the legal processes and requirements for reporting recalls.”

Separately, The Detroit News has learned that GM has hired an outside law firm to conduct a full review of the issue….

The law firm — which GM officials would not name — is conducting an extensive review of the company’s actions.”

Source: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140226/AUTO0103/302260102/0/auto01/Feds-investigating-GM-s-handling-ignition-switch-recall

“Washington — Former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Joan Claybrook said in a letter to the agency on Thursday that because NHTSA hasn’t finalized regulations required by Congress, it might not be able to impose the full $35 million penalty on General Motors Co. if it found the automaker failed to recall 1.62 million older cars for ignition switch problems vehicles in a timely fashion. In fact, $17 million may be the maximum fine.

“NHTSA’s own gross failures to require a recall over the last decade for these vehicles also raise questions about whether the agency can be the cop on the corporate beat, alert to protecting the public safety, as the Congress intended,” Claybrook said.

Congress in 2012 said the maximum penalty NHTSA could impose for failing to recall vehicles in a timely fashion was raised from about $17 million to $35 million. But it required NHTSA by Oct. 1, 2013, to issue a final rule describing its interpretation of the relevant penalty factors.

“The fact that NHSTA didn’t issue this relatively simple final rule in a timely fashion (and before the GM recall) could put in jeopardy its authority to impose the increased $35 million penalty,” Claybrook said.

NHTSA didn’t immediately comment.

During the debate over transportation legislation during 2010-2012, NHTSA endorsed a proposal to hike fines to up to $200 million if automakers failed to recall vehicles within five days of determining they posed an unreasonable risk to safety. But the auto industry successfully lobbied to see it reduced to $35 million.”

Source: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140227/AUTO0103/302270072/1121/auto01/GM-will-cooperate-with-NHTSA-probe-into-ignition-switch-recall

Many questions yet to be answered about the Revolving Door at DOT NHTSA? Industry people now holding high positions of NHTSA Vehicle Safety programs. A long list of high NHTSA officials who have now gone on to lucrative auto industry jobs in law firms, lobbying firms, etc.

So many unanswered questions for crash victims, past, present, and future.

Can we hope for change for the better? In my comments (attached) before NHTSA earlier this week I pointed out the following:

“in the 5 years under President Obama, Americans suffered many thousands more deaths due to crash injuries – more than 160,000 people – than the number of Americans who died in the Afghanistan, Iraq, Viet Nam, and Korean wars combined. Naturally citizens might think that the White House would have auto safety on its list of important issues. But if citizens go to www.WhiteHouse.gov issues they will be disappointed to find 33 issues listed – but not auto safety. Why?”

I also pointed out ways to do better included greater citizen involvement such as was done in the 1970 Clean Air Car Race when students from MIT challenged students from CalTech and all other universities to come up with a Clean Air Car that could meet the Clean Air Act goals of a 90% reduction in emissions proposed by Nixon for 1980 and by Muskie for 1975. The students demonstrated in 1970 that it could be done that very summer of 1970.

It was my privilege to present the results to the NAS committee of judges. I did not know the final emission test results yet as we were still testing the student built vehicles in a Cal Tech parking lot. We were experiencing near record smog levels. I was told the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District trailer in the adjacent parking lot was measuring high levels of Ozone. At a break, I ran over to the trailer and looked at the charts and remarked these are really high levels. A tall owlish gentleman in a three piece suit standing there glowered at me and said “Smog doesn’t bother me one bit!” I was so surprised and shocked that I could feel the hair on the back of my neck bristle.

The next morning I had to turn over the final results to the Chairman of the panel who was sitting at a picnic table with other judges. As they were discussing the results with great surprise and pleasure, the Chairman called out Harry come here. Look at what these engineering students have demonstrated. Harry was Harry F. Barr, VP of Engineering, GM — the man who had glowered at me the day before.

So let’s get students involved in meeting the Vision Zero crash fatalities goal that NYC Mayor de Blasio has set for the year 2024.

Associated Documents:

Comments on NHTSA Strategic Plan

VSL Guidance 2013

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