Auto Industry Backs U.S. ‘Black Box,’ Brake Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A trade group representing Detroit automakers and Toyota Motor Corp. plans to pledge support for requiring brake override systems and vehicle "black boxes" on all new vehicles as Congress develops new safety improvements following Toyota's large recalls.

Toyota's recall of more than 8 million vehicles around the globe to fix faulty accelerator pedals and brake problems with Prius hybrids has prompted the first major changes to auto safety requirements since a Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tire recalls in 2000.

Congress is pushing the auto industry to meet new safety standards and impose tougher penalties on car companies that fail to quickly report safety defects to the government. A House panel on Thursday is hearing from David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automakers and safety advocates to discuss the legislation under development.

A draft bill by the House Energy and Commerce Committee would eliminate the cap on civil penalties an automaker could face and empower the government to order an immediate safety recall if it finds an "imminent hazard of death or serious injury."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and others, said in a preview of its testimony that it would support vehicle brake override standards that "will reassure consumers that they can count on their automobiles."

Toyota, responding to reports of sudden unintended acceleration in its vehicles, said it would make the brake override systems standard equipment on new vehicles and retrofit the systems onto a number of older vehicles. The systems reduce power to the engine when the driver steps on the brake and accelerator simultaneously, and many vehicles have the systems.

David McCurdy, who leads the auto alliance, planned to express support for requiring event data recorders, or vehicle "black boxes," in new vehicles but is questioning the costs, noting that a typical airline black box costs more than $20,000 (euro15,500).

The bill would require the boxes to record at least 60 seconds before a crash and 15 seconds after, much longer than systems typically found in cars today, and require the systems to be resistant to temperature, water, crashes and tampering.

Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator who was to testify at the hearing, said the improved data recorders will offer a "more complete picture" of accidents and eventually decline in cost as they become more common.

Some lawmakers have said the new costs, including a proposed per-vehicle fee to boost funding for government safety research, could scare off car shoppers.

"Every time you add new regulations, new fees and new costs, that means somebody who was right on the edge of being able to buy a car gets pushed out of the ability to buy a car," said Republican Rep. Mike Rogers.

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