Statement of Chairman
September 12, 2000
morning, I want to thank the witnesses for their presence. This morning’s hearing is important for a
variety of reasons. It will offer the
Committee and the public an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the
recall of 14.4 million Firestone tires.
More important, it will begin the process for this Committee and
hopefully this Congress to examine and improve the policies of the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration to detect defects, and enhance the
obligation of industry to provide safe vehicles to consumers.
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 the 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.
me be clear, it is not my intention to use today’s hearing 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.
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.
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 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.
cite this article not as evidence of guilt but as an example of the problems
with the current system. Currently,
NHTSA plays the role of a toothless and declawed cat in a game of cat and mouse
with automakers. 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.
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.
I 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’s safety.
am 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.