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Senator proposes life sentence for executives who ignore defects

by Justin King

Bill would lift caps on fines, double funding for NHTSA.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a key figure in the ongoing General Motors hearings, is promoting a bill that would bring much tougher punishments for companies and executives responsible for delayed recalls.

If voted into law, the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Enhancement Act would allow courts to sentence executives to life in prison for failing to promptly issue recalls for safety defects that lead to deaths. A separate bill, introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), only allows for a maximum five-year sentence.

McCaskill's proposal also lifts the current $35 million maximum fine for failing to report defects in a timely manner.

"Painful recent examples at Toyota and GM have shown us we also must make it easier to hold accountable those who jeopardize consumers' safety," she said in a statement published by The Detroit News.

McCaskill acknowledges a potential resources issue that could be limiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's ability to uncover defects that are not reported by the manufacturers. Her bill would effectively double the agency's funding for the next six years, while establishing a new grant program for safety initiatives at the state and federal level.

"With millions of Americans behind the wheel every day, and more than 33,000 killed on our roads each year, we've got to do more to keep our cars and the roads we drive them on safe," she added.

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