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GM Recall Spurs Bill to Improve Auto-Defect Reporting

Two U.S. senators investigating the delayed General Motors Co. recall over faulty ignition switches want to make warranty claims, injuries and other automaker data about potential defects available to the public.

Democratic senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut today introduced legislation that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to publish information it already collects and do so in a searchable, user-friendly format.

“A massive information breakdown at NHTSA has led to deadly vehicle breakdowns on our roads,” Markey said in a statement today. “We need the early warning reporting system to provide actual early warnings to ensure the public is informed.”

GM’s February recalls followed years of internal deliberation among company engineers about whether a known mechanical shortcoming qualified as a safety defect. GM decided last month to recall 1.4 million U.S. cars, including some models of the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5, because keys in the ignition that get jostled or bumped could cause the engines to stall and air bags to not deploy in accidents.

NHTSA has come under criticism for not doing enough to follow up on crash investigations that documented the ignition-switch issue. Agency officials asked GM about one of the crash reports in a 2007 meeting, though no defect investigation was opened.

Consumer groups such as the Center for Auto Safety are seeking wider disclosure of company data to act as a check on the internal deliberations within auto companies and NHTSA.

The Senate legislation would require automakers to automatically submit crash reports and other documents collected on fatal accidents. NHTSA would have to publish all such documents unless they’re exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

“Timely information can save lives when it reveals lethal defects,” Blumenthal said. “NHTSA’s job should be to make life-saving information available, not more difficult to access.”

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