Senate passes motor vehicle safety whistleblower law

The U.S. Senate approved and sent to the House of Representatives the Thune-Nelson Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act which offers individuals a substantial monetary incentive for whistleblowers in the automotive industry to report safety problems and vehicle defects that could lead to serious injuries or death. Whistleblowers could receive up to 30 percent of any monetary penalty over $1 million imposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation or U.S. Department of Justice for misconduct.

The bill allows for automaker employees and contractors, parts suppliers, manufacturers, and dealerships to come forward to the federal government with vital information that could prevent future vehicle accidents.

Several recent high-profile auto cases including the GM ignition, can and do result in injuries and death.

The Thune-Nelson bill would allow employees or contractors of motor vehicle manufacturers, part suppliers, and dealerships to receive up to 30 percent of the monetary penalties resulting from a DOT or U.S. Department of Justice enforcement action that totals more than $1 million if they share original information not previously known to the DOT relating to any motor vehicle defect, noncompliance, or any violation of reporting requirements that is likely to cause risk of death or serious injury.

The legislation, which was first introduced last November, is modeled after existing statutory whistleblower protections that encourage individuals to share information with the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers.