On February 26, 2015, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved a proposed bill that incentivizes whistleblowers to expose motor vehicle defects likely to cause serious injury or death. The proposed legislation, known as the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act, S. 304, authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to pay up to 30 percent to any whistleblower whose information leads to a Department of Transportation or Department of Justice enforcement action that results in monetary sanctions over $1 million. The bill will now head to the Senate floor for a vote.

The Senate Committee approved the bill, which was introduced by Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL), by a voice vote. Its approval follows recent vehicle safety recalls and related litigation against manufacturers and parts suppliers, including those relating to Takata Corp.’s faulty air bags. In a statement following the Senate Committee’s approval, Chairman Thune explained that the bill is intended to “be a powerful tool to help ensure that problems regarding known safety defects are promptly reported to safety regulators.”

The proposed bill provides a monetary incentive for employees or contractors of vehicle manufacturers, parts suppliers, or vehicle dealerships who voluntarily provide original information relating to vehicle defects, noncompliance with, or violations of federal reporting laws which are likely to cause death or serious injury. Under the proposal, the Secretary of Transportation has the discretion to determine whether, and to whom, to make an award, and to award an amount up to 30 percent of the total monetary penalty assessed. When making an award determination, the Secretary must take into account certain criteria, such as whether the whistleblower first attempted to report the information internally before exposing the defect to the government, the significance of the provided information to a resolution of the enforcement action, and the degree of assistance provided by the whistleblower during the enforcement action.