Automakers vow to boost car safety in U.S. government pact

Fri Jan 15, 2016 5:02pm EST
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By Bernie Woodall and David Shepardson

DETROIT (Reuters) - As the auto industry battles to win public confidence after several massive recalls, a group of 18 major carmakers announced on Friday that they have agreed to a voluntary program with the U.S. government to improve auto safety.

The program will focus on better vehicle cyber security, early warning data to spot trends and use the aviation industry as a potential model for cooperation in the aftermath of a major government crackdown on car safety failures.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx met heads of companies like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCAU.N: Quote) and General Motors (GM.N: Quote), which have faced recalls, civil penalties and Congressional hearings over vehicle fires and defective ignition switches.

The U.S. government stressed that it is less interested in enforcing recalls and levying fines after problems arise, than preventing safety lapses in the first place.

"We have finalized a historic agreement on a set of broad-ranging actions to help make our roads safer and help avoid the sort of safety crisis that generates the wrong kind of record-setting and headlines," Foxx said.

The program is not legally binding and critics have questioned why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) held weeks of secret talks to reach an agreement instead of addressing safety problems through legal channels that would include public input.

Democratic Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the deal continued a culture of informality between automakers and regulators that has led to the deaths of hundreds of Americans through safety lapses.

"From seatbelts to catalytic converters to airbags to fuel economy standards, automakers have proven time and time again that they do nothing voluntarily," the senators said in a statement.   Continued...

General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra speaks during a keynote address at the 2016 CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada in this January 6, 2016, file photo.  REUTERS/Steve Marcus