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Auto-Safety Plan Lacks Power to Order Immediate Recalls, U.S. Agency Says

The U.S. government wouldn’t get the power it needs to order immediate auto recalls under Senate legislation drafted after Toyota Motor Corp.’s vehicle defects, the chief federal auto regulator said today.

The measure, by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, would let regulators require consumer notification of safety hazards and remedies to correct a flaw. That “does not constitute a recall,” said David Strickland, director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“If the threat to human life is truly imminent, the agency needs to act quickly, and not be slowed down by a lengthy procedural process,” Strickland said in testimony prepared for a hearing of Rockefeller’s committee in Washington.

Strickland is trying to shape legislation as the Senate and House advance plans to toughen auto-safety oversight in response to Toyota’s vehicle flaws. The Toyota City, Japan-based company recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide in the past year for accelerator-pedal defects.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, paid the maximum $16.4 million U.S. fine yesterday for failing to alert regulators about a defect tied to unintended acceleration. Regulators said Toyota waited at least four months, violating the law that requires notification within five days.

Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, is proposing steps such as requiring standards for vehicle “black boxes,” brake overrides and floor-pedal placements in his legislation. The plan increases per-vehicle penalties to $25,000 from $5,000, and removes a fee cap for intentionally failing to report defects.

The House version sponsored by Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, differs from the Senate plan by giving Strickland the power to order immediate recalls. Several other provisions in the House measure are similar to those in the Senate.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Hughes in Washington at jhughes5@bloomberg.net.

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