U.S. Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ariz.) have introduced automobile safety legislation that would impose strict new controls on automakers and boost the oversight authority of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 (S. 3302) would strengthen auto safety requirements, set new standards for stopping distance, increase fines against offending automakers, and make it easier for consumers to learn about vehicle defects.

The legislation comes after more than nine million Toyota vehicles have reportedly been recalled worldwide since last fall, including two major recalls for problems with sticking accelerator pedals. “Recent Toyota recalls showed an urgent need to update safety standards to reflect modern vehicle technology and give auto safety regulators the stronger tools and resources they need to protect the public,” Rockefeller said in a press statement. “We can do better by the American people—and we will with this bill.”

Under the bill, NHTSA’s funding would double from $140 million to $280 million by 2013, with the extra funds targeted for hiring additional safety experts and updating crash-testing facilities and databases. The bill would increase civil penalties for automakers from $5,000 to $25,000 per vehicle, and would remove the current $16.4 million cap on fines for companies that intentionally withhold safety information from NHTSA.

The measure would also force automakers to implement standardized brake override systems, keyless ignitions and vehicle electronic systems, and install crash data recorders like the “black boxes” used in airplanes. It would also bar NHTSA’s vehicle safety employees from holding certain positions in the auto industry for three years after leaving the agency. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce discussed its own auto safety draft bill on May 6, 2010. See The New York Times, May 4, 2010.