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Sen. McCain Opens Commerce Committee Hearing Into Firestone RecallAired September 12, 2000 - 9:35 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you to Washington, D.C. Senator John McCain of Arizona is chairing the Senate Commerce Committee looking at the Firestone tire recall. Let's listen.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), CHAIRMAN, COMMERCE COMMITTEE: ... and enhance the obligation of industry to provide safe vehicles to consumers.
While a great deal has been said by many people over the past few weeks about this problem, the fact remains that our attention to ensuring safety of the driving public is fleeting. It unfortunately takes the cumulative tragedy of more than 80 lives to bring our collective attention to the long overdue task of reforming the way we investigate and remedy vehicle defects.
Let me clear, it's not my intention to use today's hearings to lay blame upon any individual company or government agency. The liability of the parties involved will be appropriately determined through ongoing investigations, and eventually the courts. The fact is, we all share the blame equally when the system fails.
Congress sometimes interferes with government regulators in the prosecution of their duties. Industry can be too focused on profits, rather than the safety of the public, and agencies can become bureaucracies more concerned with paperwork than advancing the very causes they were created to serve.
Serious questions remain about what Ford and Firestone knew of this problem and when they knew it. The mounting evidence is making it increasingly difficult to credibly believe that neither of these companies knew anything of this problem until late this summer.
A recent Washington Post article cites a Firestone report from mid-1998, that shows a dramatic increase in customer claims on one of the tires that is subject to this recall. Furthermore, annual claims reports from Firestone show an increase in claims associated with the tires subject to the recall beginning in 1996 through 1999. Ford also received numerous complaints about Firestone tires on Explorers in overseas markets. These complaints were significant enough to cause Ford to replace tires in 16 foreign countries. Taken individually, each of these incidents, and they may not be cause for alarm, but taken collectively it is difficult to believe that no one realized this was a problem until a month ago. Both Ford and Firestone owe the American people an explanation for why it took them so long to act in this country.
I cite this article not as evidence of guilt, but as an example of problems with the current system. The current system must be changed, when manufacturers fail to tell the truth or purposely neglect to report safety data, and people lose their lives, severe penalties must result.
It is my intention to work with the ranking member and other members of the committee, to develop legislation to reform the process used to detect, investigate and recall defective vehicles.
Two weeks ago, I wrote to Secretary Slater about this recall, and asked for the administration's recommendations to improve NHTSA's ability to detect defects. I look forward to hearing the secretary's views on that today.
Additionally, the committee will ask the inspector general to review the Office of Defects Investigations, and make further recommendations on how to improve its functioning and ensure that it has the resources it needs to ensure the public safety.
I'm hopeful that today we can move beyond recriminations and toward the process of reform.
Again, I want to thank the witnesses for their presence. I look forward to their testimony.
SEN. FRITZ HOLLINGS (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: First, Mr. Chairman, let me welcome you back to the committee. We're delighted that you're in good health and back with us.
KAGAN: We've been listening to Senator John McCain as he kicks off the Senate Commerce Committee's look into the Firestone tire recall; 6.5 million tires recalled, mainly tires that have been on Ford Explorers.
Let's bring in our Carl Rochelle.
Carl, the senator saying not really looking to place blame, although it becomes more suspicious as more and more information comes out about when these companies knew what and when they knew it. However, there is legislation that's coming out from this problem, isn't there?
CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is legislation that is in the works. There are a couple of bills that were passed last week, one to -- or not passed, that were introduced last week -- one to put a penalty, both criminal and civil penalties, for a company that didn't notify federal authorities within two days of an overseas recall or defect. And there were other problems to make some civil and criminal penalties for letting this thing happen, letting the problem go to the point that people were killed on the highways.
But what McCain is talking about -- and this is as had been forecast for me by some staff members from the committee -- is trying to reform the process overall instead of just going at an issue to slam into it and putting blame on it, as some of these bills that were introduced last week do, to actually try to look at what is wrong and why the problem is out there and pass some legislation mandating the recall.
This is one of the things that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking for is some more teeth in being able to get this information out of the companies. They are now limited to a $925,000 fine, for instance. They are asking for $4 million as a cap on how much they can assess a company that has a problem like that and doesn't report it fully and forthcoming and faithfully as they should do.
So that's what the committee's going to look at. But you're going to see some finger-pointing this morning, as you heard from McCain, saying that he felt like -- he felt Ford and Firestone offered the country an explanation why they took so long, Daryn.
KAGAN: All right, Carl Rochelle in Washington. We will continue to watch that Senate Commerce Committee hearing and bring you more as the morning goes on.
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