Senate Approves Bill to Overhaul The Nation's Auto-Safety Laws
                    October 12, 2000

                    By STEPHEN POWER
                    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    WASHINGTON -- The Senate approved a bill to overhaul the nation's
                    auto-safety laws, responding to concerns raised by the Firestone tire
                    recall, and sent it to President Clinton for his signature.

                                         The measure, which passed without opposition
                                         in the House early Wednesday, is the first major
                                         legislation in years to address gaps in
                                         auto-safety laws. It imposes new reporting
                                         requirements on auto makers and establishes
                    jail sentences for those who mislead regulators about safety defects.
                    But Democrats complained the bill contains loopholes that would shield
                    executives from prosecution, and unsuccessfully sought to put off a

                    The Senate's action disappointed consumer-safety groups, who had
                    been lobbying for a tougher measure, sponsored by Sen. John McCain
                    (R., Ariz.), that would have imposed criminal penalties on manufacturers
                    who knowingly market defective products that result in deaths or
                    injuries. But that measure was stymied amid objections from
                    auto-industry lobbyists and their allies, who said it would criminalize
                    engineering-design decisions.

                    "This is trial lawyers against automotive interests," Sen. McCain said in a
                    speech on the Senate floor. "It's wrong. I don't know how you go back
                    to the American people and explain we couldn't get together to pass
                    legislation to save lives and prevent injuries."

                    Sen. McCain later offered the House bill as a compromise, after his bill
                    was blocked through a parliamentary maneuver known as a hold, under
                    which lawmakers can anonymously halt action on a bill. Only one
                    senator, George Voinovich (R., Ohio), has acknowledged having blocked
                    the measure, although his office said he withdrew his objections based
                    on an agreement that Sen. McCain would change some language in the
                    criminal provisions.

                    The Senate also passed the bill without opposition on a voice vote.
                    Earlier in the day, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater had written
                    to Sen. McCain to urge him to act on the House bill, calling it "critically
                    needed legislation." While conceding that he preferred his own bill, Sen.
                    McCain said the compromise bill would not weaken existing law and
                    includes new safety requirements.

                    Some of those requirements were unthinkable for auto lobbyists just a
                    few months ago. For instance, the bill would require the National
                    Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop regulations mandating
                    systems that would warn drivers if tires are underinflated. It also directs
                    regulators to devise real-world tests that assess vehicles' propensity to
                    roll over. The agency's current proposal for doing so relies on a
                    mathematical formula involving the vehicle's width and center of gravity
                    -- a method that both consumer groups and industry lobbyists had

                    "There are some positive provisions in the House bill, no question," said
                    Sally Greenberg, an attorney for Consumers Union, which publishes
                    Consumer Reports. "It's just unfortunate that senators who expressed
                    concerns about specific provisions … had no opportunity to offer
                    amendments to improve the legislation."

                    With Congress set to recess soon for the fall elections, consumer
                    advocates and business groups had pressed hard to shape new laws
                    following congressional hearings on the Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.

                    Write to Stephen Power at