Lobbyists Win and Safety Loses in Senate Vote

A party line vote in the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee this week marked a big win for industry lobbyists and loss for consumers. According to a report in the Washington Post the approved legislation, which now heads to the full Senate, “brims with industry-sought provisions that would block, delay or roll back safety rules.”

The newspaper’s account focuses in particular on auto and rail safety. According to the Post the bill “would block a new Department of Transportation rule requiring that trains hauling crude oil are equipped with electronically-controlled brakes that affect all cars at the same time.” It would also delay rules requiring both freight and passenger trains to have “positive train control” safety systems, despite the fact that most observers believe the recent fatal Amtrak crash near Philadelphia could have been avoided if a PTC system had been in place on the train in question.

On our roads, the bill would roll back measures intended to curb car accidents here in Oregon and around the nation by increasing the size of the fines the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can assess against auto makers. Those fines are currently capped at $35 million – a relatively small sum for any big global carmaker – at a time of record-shattering auto recalls. The NHTSA had sought the authority to levy fines of up to $300 million, believing that the higher number would give car companies more incentive to put safety first. The committee reduced that to $70 million.

One of the few bright spots in the bill, according to the Post’s account, was that a provision pushed by committee Democrats that “would prevent car rental agencies from renting vehicles that are under a safety recall, but have not been repaired” survived – though only after Republicans on the committee tried, unsuccessfully, to water it down.

As an Oregon and Washington personal injury attorney I am appalled (though not particularly surprised) by all this. As the Post outlines, the changes to the bill approved by the committee amounted to an auto and rail industry wish list for this legislation. The decision by some committee members to put the interests of big business ahead of customer safety is profoundly disappointing..

 

Washington Post: GOP bill would undermine auto, rail safety regulations