Who should bear the responsibility for deaths & injuries due to known safety defects?

Should there be criminal penalties for cases in which persons are killed as a result of known safety defects in vehicles?

What is a “safety defect” anyway?

http://resources.lawinfo.com/personal-injury/products-liability/toyota-recall/what-is-a-safety-related-motor-vehicle-defect.html “The United States Code for Motor Vehicle Safety (Title 49, Chapter 301) defines motor vehicle safety as “the performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in a way that protects the public against unreasonable risk of accidents occurring because of the design, construction, or performance of a motor vehicle, and against unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident, and includes nonoperational safety of a motor vehicle.” A defect includes “any defect in performance, construction, a component, or material of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment.” As reported by the Office of Defects Investigation ( www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov) a “safety defect” is defined as a problem that exists in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment that:

  • poses a risk to motor vehicle safety, and
  • may exist in a group of vehicles of the same design or manufacture, or items of equipment of the same type and manufacture.”

 

If there is a known safety defect and no attempt is made to correct the problem and someone dies or is seriously injured as a result, who should be held responsible for this and what price should they have to pay?

Some have written about this topic:

 

When I read the above article this morning, it reminded me of things said by Michael Lemov–in his book, Car Safety Wars; 100 Years of Technology, Politics, and Death, which chronicles interesting quotes and facts concerning the history of vehicle safety defects and their impact on matters of life and death:

  • “Enforcement should be strengthened to include criminal penalties, because drivers, Nader said, already face criminal penalties for reckless driving and similar offenses.”
  • p. 92, “…the miniscule amount that senator Robert Kennedy (New York) established the industry spent for automotive safety, in comparison to its billions in annual profits (less than one percent it turned out). Or the large number of ‘dealer recalls’ for defects (478 in 1965), many of which the manufacturers had not told car owners anything about.”
  • p. 92, “…the Johnson administration’s ensuing decision to ask Congress for the passage of the first federal motor vehicle safety law in history.”
  • p. 92, “President Johnson had included a statement on the motor vehicle safety issue in his 1966 State of the Union message to Congress–and to the millions of Americans listening that January evening. Johnson spoke mostly about the two overriding issues of the day–the administration’s ‘War on Poverty’ and the quagmire of the bloody, seemingly endless Vietnam War. In his ten-page State of the Union address the President devoted just two sentences to highway safety. He called for the nation to ‘arrest the destruction of life and property on our highways.’ And he said he would propose a Highway Safety Act to ‘end this mounting tragedy.”
  • p. 92-93, “The President’s transportation message released in early March 1966 further spelled out the administration’s traffic-safety plan. It forcefully stated the need for legislation on vehicle design-safety, placing it squarely in the forefront of the public’s consciousness: Last year, the highway death toll set a new record. The prediction for this year is more than 50,000 persons will die on our streets and highways–more than 50,000 useful and promising lives will be lost, and as many families stung by grief. The toll of Americans killed in this way since the introduction of the automobile is truly unbelievable. It is 1.5 million–more than all the combat deaths suffered in all our wars. . . No other necessity of modern life has brought more convenience to the “American people–or more tragedy–than the automobile. . . the carnage on the highways must be arrested. . . we must replace suicide with sanity and anarchy with safety.
  • p. 95, “Despite all the rhetoric, the main issue was relatively simple. How extensive should the new federal authority be to set enforceable national motor vehicle safety standards? That power was central to the proposed law. It was delegated in the administration’s bill to the inexperienced, business-friendly Department of Commerce. Ultimately it was to be transferred to the as yet nonexistent Department of Transportation. . . In handing off the issue to his senior colleague Magnuson, Senator Ribicoff was specific in his recommendations. Ribicoff repeated the gruesome statistics of rising deaths and injuries. He asked: Could it be that we have reached the point where we simply accept the highway toll as an ordinary fact of life? Is this one of the prices we must pay for the privilege for living in a modern, technological society? I hope not. We must concern ourselves with more than the causes of accidents.
  • p. 95, “Ribicoff endorsed the decades-old position of doctors, accident investigators, and university researchers, which had long been ignored by the manufacturers and the safety establishment: ‘We must look beyond the accident to the cause of the injury that results. I am speaking, of course, about the so-called second collision, the often lethal battering which the occupants of a vehicle incur as the result of even a minor crash.’
  • p. 95, “And Ribicoff challenged one of the key arguments of the manufacturers: ‘The automobile industry seems inclined to believe that the American public will not buy a safe car. In fact, some spokesmen for the industry have stated that safety doesn’t sell, and that they have no choice if they want to stay in business but to give the public what the public wants.'”
  • p. 95, “But Ribicoff argued that the public and the press were now ‘aroused’ and had finally grasped the ‘significance of the second collision’–and presumably the need for federal vehicle standards as a means of preventing the deaths and injuries ‘that inevitably result from accidents.'”
  • p. 95, “. . .Ribicoff said: ‘We believe the president’s highway safety bill can be and should be strengthened and improved.'”
  • p. 97, “Nader followed with a laundry list of defects in the proposed administration bill:
  • “It should ensure that motor vehicle safety standards applied to pedestrian safety.
  • “The federal standards should include their technical or engineering basis, so they could be evaluated by independent experts and the public[these technical specifications might be deemed trade secrets by the carmakers].
  • “The bill should make government issuance of the standards within one year, mandatory [not discretionary as provided in the administration’s bill].
  • “Court review should be broadened to include a right to sue for ‘affected parties’ and a right of review by ‘consumers and insurers.’
  • “The production of prototype ‘safe cars’ should be mandated.
  • “Vehicle manufacturers should be required to submit annual performance [crash] data, showing how well their cars were performing in actual use.
  • “All car-maker communications with their dealers regarding safety should be submitted to the government and be made public.
  • “Enforcement should be strengthened to include criminal penalties, because drivers, Nader said, already face criminal penalties for reckless driving and similar offenses.”
  • Car Safety Wars book cover

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