The following was released today by the Office of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy:

A bill to be introduced Wednesday in the U.S. Senate would require U.S. tire and automakers to notify the U.S. Department of Transportation within two days of voluntary or mandatory overseas product recalls.

The bill, authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), also provides for criminal penalties for manufacturers who fail to comply with the U.S. notice requirement. The bill is expected to be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Leahy is the Ranking Member (Democratic leader).

The relevancy of foreign recalls to consumer safety has come into focus after Firestone tires were discovered to have been recalled overseas and after Mitsubishi's disclosure that it has routinely withheld information about potentially dangerous products.

"Timely notice about recalls should not be optional when consumer safety is at stake," said Leahy. "Relevant information about safety problems abroad can save lives and accelerate remedial action here at home." The bill would ensure that recalls or replacement of defective motor vehicles or of replacement equipment such as tires in foreign countries are promptly reported to the Department of Transportation (DOT) when such vehicles are manufactured for export to the United States or where the defective product or equipment is manufactured in the United States in a manner that is similar to its manufacture in the foreign country and therefore may also be dangerous. The notification is required within 48 hours of the overseas recall. Within five days of that initial notice, a more detailed report must also be produced to DOT describing the basis for the recall and information about serious injuries or fatalities related to the defect.

Even if a recall is not declared, the manufacturer must notify DOT each time there is a significant rise in deaths or serious injuries in a foreign country related to dangerous defects in vehicles or vehicle components that could relate to the safety of vehicles in the U.S. market. Failure to comply would subject firms to civil penalties of up to $500,000 per day, and coverups could subject corporate officials to jail sentences of up to five years and to up to $250,000 in criminal fines.

In August 1999 Ford replaced the Firestone tires on 6,800 Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers in Saudi Arabia. This February the automaker replaced the tires on 300 Ford Explorers (1997 model year) in Thailand and Malaysia. Three months later tires were replaced on 39,812 light trucks and Ford Explorers in South America. In total, tires were replaced on 46,912 vehicles overseas between August 1999 and Spring 2000.

Today there is no legal requirement for manufacturers of motor vehicles and their components to notify U.S. agencies of a foreign recall, unless the company suspects that a part in the United States is known to be defective. In this case, Ford blamed driver abuse for the tire problems experienced overseas and therefore did not inform DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

On May 2, 2000, the NHTSA opened a preliminary evaluation (PE) of Firestone ATX, ATX II, and Wilderness tires after receiving 90 complaints, primarily from consumers in southeastern and southwestern states, about tread separations or blowouts. It was only then that the agency also became aware of the overseas recalls. To date, NHTSA has received more than 1400 complaints, including reports of more than 250 injuries and 88 deaths. Some of the complaints to NHTSA date back to the early 1990s, and 797 of the complaints report that tire failures took place between August 1, 1999, and August 9, 2000.

On August 9, Bridgestone/Firestone announced a U.S. recall of 6.5 million Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires, three months after NHTSA opened its investigation, and nearly nine months after Ford initiated the replacement of tires overseas.

In an interview with ABC News on September 3, 2000, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater endorsed the idea of a law requiring that the United States be immediately notified of a foreign recall "...especially in the global economy when you've got U.S. goods really being used by individuals around the world. We should know when theres a problem someplace else."

According to the current NHTSA data:

-- Of the complaints indicating that a fatality resulted, 58 of these complaints also indicate the dates of the tire failures (77 total deaths are reported in these specific complaints);

-- Of the 77 fatalities, 37 of these deaths took place between August 19, 1999, and July 19, 2000 (post-foreign recall, pre-U.S. recall).