Auto Officials Could Face Jail Terms Under Safety Bill Passed by House
                    October 12, 2000

                    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
                    business groups.

                    "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.