A WSJ.COM News Roundup
WASHINGTON -- Auto industry officials could be sentenced to up to 15
years in prison for hiding fatal safety problems from government
regulators under a bill that passed the House early Wednesday.
Public outrage over the deaths of 101 Americans
and the injury of more than 400 other users of
Firestone tires sped the bill through the House
in less than two months, despite opposition
from the powerful auto industry and other
"We have lost more than 100 lives because of these tires," said Rep.
Fred Upton (R. Mich.), the bill's sponsor. "We have seen hundreds and
hundreds of accidents, many serious injuries. And what this bill does is
correct those problems."
The bill, known as the T.R.E.A.D. Act, for
Transportation Recall Enhancement,
Accountability and Documentation, passed the
House on a voice vote. It faces uncertain
prospects in the Senate, however, with time
running out in the current session of Congress.
Sen. John McCain (R. Ariz.) also introduced
legislation aimed at getting auto-industry
companies to provide more information about
safety problems to the government. The auto
industry opposed the criminal provisions in the
Upton and McCain bills, but considers Mr.
Upton's the lesser of two evils.
Under Mr. McCain's bill, auto-industry officials
who knowingly sell defective products that kill or
injure people could be sentenced to up to 15
years in prison.
Mr. Upton's bill also would create a 15-year
sentence, but only for officials who withhold
information on defective products from
government investigators. It also includes a
"safe-harbor" provision that would allow
whistle-blowers to report the defects within "a
reasonable amount of time" without being
Some of Mr. McCain's colleagues think his bill goes too far and have
blocked it from receiving a vote in the Senate, so he was working with
Mr. Upton on a compromise.
Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co., the world's No. 2 auto maker,
received harsh criticism after the Firestone recall was announced in
August because it acknowledged ordering its own recall of the same
tires in 16 other countries after receiving reports of problems. The
foreign recalls began more than a year before the U.S. recall, but Ford
never alerted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Ford wasn't required by law to report the foreign recalls. Companies
would have to tell NHTSA about such actions overseas under the McCain
and Upton bills.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has been criticized for not ordering a recall
sooner, even though the company's data on claims for injuries and
property damage indicated problems with the tires at least as early as
In August the company recalled 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and
Wilderness AT tires used primarily on Ford light trucks and sport utility
vehicles, including Ford's best-selling Explorer
The Upton and McCain bills include provisions that require auto makers
and their suppliers to give the NHTSA more information about
accidents, warranties and claims so it can identify problems earlier.
Upton's bill also includes a provision requiring NHTSA to develop driving
tests to determine vehicle rollover risk instead of the simple
mathematical formula the agency plans to use. Critics say the formula
isn't as accurate as a road test.
Most of the Firestone tire deaths occurred when the tires came apart
while on Ford Explorers, causing the vehicles to roll over.