NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In response to Toyota's recent recall crisis, Consumers Union is calling for improvements in the U.S. car safety net to catch infrequent but fatal problems -- such as the troubled automaker's unintended acceleration -- more efficiently.
The nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports recommends changes to be implemented by all affected parties, including the government, manufacturers, consumers and its influential magazine.
In addition to implementing safety changes in new cars that would prevent Toyota's acceleration malfunction, Consumers Union suggests streamlining public access to customer complaints and issue-related manufacturer data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Defects Investigation.
The consumer advocate also recommends more funding for the NHTSA, and advises that the safety agency remove its $16.4 million civil penalty cap since manufacturers dismiss it as the "cost of doing business." The risk of higher fines could act as a deterrent for future violations of the law, Consumers Union said.
The nonprofit suggests manufacturers "go above and beyond" government safety regulations, by incorporating features such as electronic stability control and curtain airbags in low-budget cars, instead of packaging safety options with luxurious amenities.
Consumers Union encourages car owners to report their complaints to NHTSA so regulators and consumers groups have more data to analyze to identify widespread and sporadic but critical problems.
It also urges drivers to fix recall-related issues in their cars. According to the NHTSA, the average consumer response rate to vehicle recalls is 74.1%.
The publisher also said it will expand car safety information available on Consumer Reports' Web site, initially by including recall information. It will also collect information about consumers' experiences with recalls to determine how the process can be more effective.
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