One single word found within President Obama’s recently passed Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act has auto executives on edge. The new rule, which is expected to go into effect by the end of 2016, replaces the word “may” with “shall” into the process requiring senior officials responsible for auto safety to sign their name to information regarding all defects reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In effect, this rule now certifies that safety officials must review reports, have knowledge of all defects, and attest to the validity of information in defect reports. Many senior executives within the auto executives have previously claimed ignorance of defects to avoid responsibility, including Volkswagen AG’s blaming of “rogue engineers” for the company’s massive 2015 emissions scandal. Similarly, executives at General Motors claimed they had no knowledge of an ignition switch defect that claimed the lives of at least 124 people.
This new rule places greater accountability on auto safety officials for defects and eliminates the problem of executives dodging punishment. Signees of these reports will likely be the first person the NHTSA or U.S. Department of Justice will contact in the event that a government investigation should commence, thereby introducing a much more intense level of scrutiny on their work.
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