Senators Intro Bill To Require Recall Warning Lights On Dashboards, Mandatory Collision Avoidance

July 9, 2015

As everyone knows, 2014 was the Year of the Recall. Between fatal ignition switch flaws at General Motors and exploding airbags from Takata, recalls were at the forefront of everyone's mind.

It wasn't just the volume of recalls that made 2014 remarkable, though. It was also the fact that some of those recalls were very, very confusing. Automakers sometimes blamed the confusion on the age of the recalled cars, which made it harder to track down owners. Regulators like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sometimes lay the blame on automakers. And Congress, in turn, wanted to make NHTSA shoulder some of the responsibility.   

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According to Detroit News, a group of U.S. Senators wants to address many of those concerns with new auto regulations. They've laid out their plans in a bill that's being submitted to Congress today.

The bill comes from a handful of Senators who've been watching automakers for some time -- namely, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Bill Nelson (D-FL). Their bill is called "The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2015", and it contains numerous components that aim to improve the recall process and keep drivers and passengers safer on the road. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • The bill would require a new warning light on dashboards to indicate when vehicles are recalled. (Obviously, that would require that all cars be connected to networks run by the federal government and/or automakers.)
  • It would require used car dealers to repair vehicles before selling or leasing them (much like the bill proposed last year in California). While new car dealers are required by law to fix recalled cars before delivering them to customers, used car dealerships are under no such obligation.
  • It would require automakers to send out recall notices by email in addition to the current notifications sent by postal mail.
  • It would launch a grant program for state agencies, allowing those agencies to use NHTSA's database of recalls to alert owners of open recalls when mailing out registration renewals. (Blumenthal and Markey proposed similar legislation earlier this year.) A complementary program would force owners to repair vehicles before their registrations are processed.
  • It would give NHTSA some authority to launch recalls on its own, instead of asking automakers to conduct them. (Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx proposed the same thing a few months ago.)
  • It would require collision avoidance technologies on all new vehicles.

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Does the bill have a chance of passing? Not remotely. At the moment, all the sponsors are Democrats, and while the bill might gain some traction in the Republican-controlled Senate, in the more boisterous GOP-led House, it's unlikely to go anywhere at all.

Does that mean it's dead? Technically, yes, the bill is DOA, but its ideas will live on. Some -- like the dashboard warning light -- may not be passed for a very long time, if at all, because of privacy concerns. Others, like mandatory collision avoidance systems, are probably coming sooner than we think. What such add-ons mean for auto prices when paired with all the other high-tech autonomous features headed our way is anyone's guess.

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