U.S. Senate Gives Support for Whistleblowers in the Auto Industry

In 2013 Canadians bought a total of 1.74 million new vehicles. In 2014, Americans bought a total of 16.5 million new vehicles. Of these new vehicles, hundreds of thousands were recalled for safety defects—many which have caused serious harm to car owners and in some cases death. Auto technicians who are training to become a mechanic understand the importance of safety when disassembling and assembling vehicles, however, reporting unsafe manufacturing is not always so black and white. Read on to find out more about new legislation which will encourage auto workers to strengthen safety standards, and notify authorities when standards are not being met.

The Long Road to Auto Safety Legislation

2014 was not a good year for GM or Toyota, companies who both saw massive recalls and subsequent lawsuits. GM was under fire for faulty ignition switches which caused several car accidents. This led to a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice, which determined that there had been a 10-year delay on a faulty ignition switch recall for GM. The company was forced to pay a $35 million fine.

Meanwhile, Toyota faces a potential of 17 million vehicles in the US which may be built with faulty Takata airbags. Times magazine has reported that Takata knew about the faulty airbags from as far back as 2004, and that Takata’s airbag plant in Mexico allowed for a defect rate much higher than international standards. Times also revealed in this report that Honda hid nearly 1800 fatalities and injuries from federal reports for nearly 10 years.

These recent revelation in the auto manufacturing industry has led to six new proposed legislations this year—all having to do with toughening auto safety regulations. The newest of these legislations is the Thune-Nelson Bill.

The Thune-Nelson Bill

John Thune and Bill Nelson, senators of the Republican and Democratic parties respectively, recently co-authored a bill which they hope will promote auto mechanic workers in manufacturing plants to report safety defects to the government. This law also extends to parts suppliers and workers at dealerships, who would receive up to 30% of the penalty money paid by automakers. This bill is designed to reward whistleblowers for protecting the safety of auto buyers, and shield them from the harsh retaliation they often receive from their employers when they are found out.

How it Will Affect the Auto Industry

New auto safety legislation such as the Thune-Nelson Bill, has encouraged some auto makers to stay one step ahead of the pack to avoid potential lawsuits and hefty payouts to the U.S. government. Toyota, for example, is now running their own personal whistleblower tip line, which has been set in place for three years. This arrangement was made after Toyota was forced to pay $1.2 billion for its unintended acceleration defect which affected Toyota models made from 2009-2011.

In a similar frame of mind, GM started a “Speak Up for Safety” campaign among its employees, celebrating employees who spoke out against their superiors in the name of safety. This campaign began after GM’s faulty ignition switches caused 36 deaths and many more injuries.

Do you think these legislative measures will lower the number of auto defects in the future?

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