Automobile manufacturers described the House auto safety bill (H.R. 5164) passed yesterday as challenging legislation, yet acknowledged that it is more workable than the Senate version of the bill.

“Automakers support the intent of safety legislation now being debated in Congress to achieve earlier detection of safety-related defects and faster correction of those defects,” said Alliance President & CEO Josephine S. Cooper. “The good thing about the House bill is that it doesn’t turn safety engineers wearing white lab coats into hardened criminals,” she added.

“Though we continue to oppose the criminal penalties provision, the House bill as passed is more balanced than the current Senate version because the House bill provides an objective standard about what is and what is not a criminal act,” Cooper continued. “Auto engineers need that bright line. Real-world experience under other federal programs has pointedly illustrated the significant chilling effect that the prospect of criminal penalties can have on investigations. The House bill will allow automakers to maintain and enhance their working relationship with NHTSA. By providing more stringent penalties in egregious cases for a person already engaged in criminal deception of the government, and by providing that the offense must be intentional, the House approach allows a conscientious person to do what is necessary to avoid criminal liability, which should be the goal of all criminal statutes.”

The House bill also includes a provision directing NHTSA to establish new reporting requirements through rulemaking.

“The industry is pleased that the reporting requirements will be developed through a rulemaking to ensure that NHTSA receives the appropriate and useful information to improve overall safety,” Cooper said. “This will enable us to continue to work in good faith with NHTSA, and will help to ensure that both NHTSA and the industry can identify safety-related defects sooner. Speedy information flow will help to enhance early detection and quick correction of safety-related defects on motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. Most important, NHTSA officials won’t be buried in mountains of paper.”

The House bill, called the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act, was sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana) and Fred Upton (R-Michigan). A Senate auto safety bill was sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).