Statement of CAS Executive Director Clarence Ditlow on GM President Alan Batey Apology
Over Expanded Chevrolet Cobalt Recall
“It’s almost unprecedented for the head of an auto company in the US to make a public apology. The last time it happened was when GM President James Roche apologized to Ralph Nader in March 1966. General Motors made a terrible mistake when it failed to recall these vehicles in 2006 when it knew exactly what the problem was and how to fix it. At least 13 people have died as a result of airbags failing to deploy in the cars covered by the expanded recall. By apologizing, the company is hoping to avoid criminal penalties under the Safety Act and only being fined $35 million which is the maximum civil penalty.”
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49 U.S.C. § 30170. Criminal Penalties
(a) Criminal liability for falsifying or withholding information.–
(1) General rule.–A person who violates section 1001 of title 18 with respect to the reporting requirements of section 30166, with the specific intention of misleading the Secretary with respect to motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment safety related defects that have caused death or serious bodily injury to an individual (as defined in section 1 365(g)(3) of title 18), shall be subject to criminal penalties of a fine under title 18, or imprisoned for not more than 15 years, or both.
(2) Safe harbor to encourage reporting and for whistle blowers.–
(A) Correction.–A person described in paragraph (1) shall not be subject to criminal penalties under this subsection if: (1) at the time of the violation, such person does not know that the violation would result in an accident causing death or serious bodily injury; and (2) the person corrects any improper reports or failure to report within a reasonable time.
(B) Reasonable time and sufficiency of correction.–The Secretary shall establish by regulation what constitutes a reasonable time for the purposes of subparagraph (A) and what manner of correction is sufficient for purposes of subparagraph (A). The Secretary shall issue a final rule under this subparagraph within 90 days of the date of the enactment of this section.
(C) Effective date.–Subsection (a) shall not take effect before the final rule under subparagraph (B) takes effect.
(b) Coordination with department of justice.–The Attorney General may bring an action, or initiate grand jury proceedings, for a violation of subsection (a) only at the request of the Secretary of Transportation.