U.S. auto regulators would be required to establish minimum standards to prevent unintended acceleration and carmakers would pay substantially higher fines for withholding safety information from the government, according to draft legislation being circulated.
House of Representatives and Senate committees are taking aim at industry and regulatory shortcomings identified during the safety crisis that engulfed Toyota Motor Co this year.
Representative Henry Waxman and Senator John Rockefeller, the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee respectively, are working jointly on a package to speed congressional consideration.
Key proposals circulated on Thursday, and set for discussion at an Energy and Commerce hearing on May 6, include recommendations covering domestic and overseas automakers and the agency that regulates them, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The proposals would require all vehicles have brake override -- a system ensuring the brakes trump acceleration in all circumstances. The government would also have to establish minimum clearances for foot pedals, a measure arising from accidents in which floor mats trapped accelerators.
The brake and pedal issues are at the center of the Toyota saga - massive recalls linked to complaints that cars and trucks accelerated without warning.
The unintended acceleration problem is considered relatively rare, but is something the government and the broader auto industry has been wrestling with for years.
Carmakers would also have to make vehicles with easily-read recorders to capture data such as speed, braking, and acceleration. More and more vehicles have the technology but recorder standards are currently voluntary.
The congressional proposal would give NHTSA authority to immediately order a recall in circumstances where the regulator finds an imminent hazard of death or serious injury, and would increase fines for manufacturers that withhold information from regulators to $250 million.
Toyota this month agreed to pay a $16.4 million fine, the current maximum, to settle U.S. Transportation Department allegations that it knowingly delayed an accelerator pedal recall in January for four months. The automaker admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to pay the civil penalty.
Multiple recalls and months of government scrutiny early this year jolted Toyota's reputation for quality and reliability. NHTSA, for its part, was accused of not being aggressive enough with the automaker over the years despite mounting complaints of unintended acceleration.
Toyota has said it is making changes to ensure an even higher standard for safety and reliability, and transparency with regulators.
(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)