U.S. Highway Bill Would Triple NHTSA’s Defect Investigation Budget

Also raises maximum recall fine to $105 million.

The $300 billion highway bill Congress is voting on this week seeks to inject some much-needed TLC into America's crumbling highway infrastructure, but there are other provisions in the bill that would raise the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's budget and allow the agency to better oversee vehicle safety and inform the public of recalls, Automotive News reports.

The five-year measure, called the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, would be the first long-term highway plan in 10 years. If passed, the bill would see that roughly $300 billion is spent on roads, bridges, and mass-transit projects. Another thing the bill would do is raise NHTSA's budget for defect investigations from $10 million a year to $30 million. That would happen only after the agency carries out the reforms recommended by the Transportation Department's inspector general in its extremely critical report on NHTSA released this summer. NHTSA has vowed to make the changes by June of 2016.

Also included in the FAST Act's 1,300 pages is a provision for raising the maximum fine for safety violations to $105 million, triple the current max of $35 million. A previous bill also proposed raising the cap to $105 million. In addition, the bill would prohibit rental car companies from renting vehicles with unfixed recalls and reward employees who report potentially dangerous safety violations. If the violation leads to a financial penalty for the automaker or supplier, the whistleblower could get up to 30 percent of the fines collected. Automakers would be required to keep safety data for 10 years, as opposed to five years currently, and would need to provide part numbers for defective parts involved in a recall to NHTSA. Dealers would be required to inform customers of open recalls, and states would be given funds so they can notify owners who renew their vehicle registration that a recall is due. That move is intended to better inform used car buyers, who have been difficult for automakers to track down in the past.

The bill has bipartisan support, and the White House said in a statement that President Obama would sign it if it passes.

Related Articles