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House committee approves audible alerts for quiet cars

by Bill Cawthon on

In opening debate on a major reform of auto safety laws, the House Energy and Commerce Committee today voted unanimously to include a requirement that audible alerts, such as chirps or similar sounds be added to all electric cars, plug-in hybrids and other vehicles that generate little or no sound. The requirement is designed to help the visually impaired, pedestrians and bicyclists who might not otherwise notice the vehicles in time to avoid a collision. Another requirement will be an event recorder, which would maintain the information on conditions right before and during a crash.

The panel will now be discussing a revised bill that scales back some of the measures contained in the original proposal. Among the changes are reductions in penalties for recalls. While the bill would still raise a manufacturer’s liability from a current cap of $16.4 million to a new cap of $25,000 per vehicle recalled with a cap of $200 million, the bill originally introduced by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) had no cap, which could have left Toyota, for example, facing a bill of $13 billion connected with its delays in addressing the accelerator problem. An original penalty of up to $250 million was proposed for executives who fail to provide information connected to recalls. The revised legislation reduces that amount to $5,000 per day with a $5 million cap.

The proposed legislation would also curb the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ability to order unsafe vehicles off the road. The NHTSA would have to prove the “substantial likelihood of death or serious injury to the public” and the car companies would have a chance to “present information, views, and arguments” before the department issued a final order.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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