Associated Press Wednesday October 11 1:24 AM ET

Original Source

Wednesday October 11 1:24 AM Eastern Time

U.S. House Passes Tire Legislation

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - 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 others using Firestone tires sped the bill through the House in less than two months, despite opposition from the powerful auto industry and

"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 (news - web sites), 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 Upton's the lesser of two evils.

Under 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.

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 whistleblowers to report the defects within ``a reasonable amount of time'' without being punished.

Some of 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 Upton on a compromise. Negotiations continued late into Thursday night and debate began just before midnight.

Ford Motor Co. 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 (news - web sites).

Ford was not required by law to report the foreign recalls. Companies would have to tell NHTSA about such actions overseas under the McCain and Upton bills. 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 1997.

The Upton and McCain bills include provisions requiring automakers 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 is not 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.


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