Under pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Honda has agreed to pay $70 million in fines for concealing vital information about 1,729 fatalities and injuries in its cars, as well as important warranty information, in violation of federal auto safety laws.
To its credit, NHTSA is assessing Honda the maximum allowed by law — $35 million, for two separate violations, for a fine totaling $70 million. Plus NHTSA now has more ability to monitor Honda’s compliance with the laws in the future.
But — Honda should be paying more. For a huge multi-national, multi-billion-dollar company like Honda, and such repeated serious offenses, $70 million is not enough to act as a real deterrent.
Why isn’t Honda paying more? Because Congress has failed to act, to give NHTSA the authority to levy higher fines. The Obama Administration has been asking Congress to raise the cap on fines for egregious violations of auto safety laws to $300 million. But so far, only Democrats in Congress have introduced bills to raise or outright eliminate the cap. Despite all the hearings and all the hoopla, no Republican has stood up to the auto industry on behalf of the motoring public and proposed giving NHTSA the authority to levy higher fines.
It’s particularly troubling that U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chair of the House Commerce Committee, keeps blasting NHTSA for not doing more, but has been totally AWOL when it comes to doing anything to give the agency the authority and resources it needs to do the job. So far, he’s failed to propose a single bill. He talks a good fight, and can play the tough guy when the cameras are rolling, but when it comes to improving auto safety protections for American families, he has delivered exactly zilch.
Bottom line: thanks to behind-the-scenes special-interest lobbying in Congress against desperately needed, reasonable, effective auto safety reforms, Honda just saved itself a cool $530 million.