WASHINGTON -- Ralph Nader, who wrote the 1965 book "Unsafe at Any Speed" that criticized automakers for putting profits ahead of safety, showed up Wednesday at a congressional hearing on defective Firestone tires but didn't address the lawmakers.
Instead, the Green Party's presidential nominee spoke to reporters in the hallway outside, saying not much has changed in the last 35 years.
Nader said he is convinced that Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co., which uses the recalled tires as standard equipment on its vehicles, covered up defects that led to deaths and injuries. He called for a change in the law so company executives can be criminally charged for withholding such information.
"Under current law, an auto or tire company can knowingly and willingly sell tires and motor vehicles that they know to be defective, that they know to have caused deaths and injuries and the only penalty is a civil fine," he said. "And in the case of the tire industry and Firestone, the maximum fine is $925,000 -- chump change.
"When they are exposed to criminal penalty possibilities, they tend to be much more rigorous in making sure that their products are safely designed and constructed."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received more than 1,400 complaints, including reports of 88 deaths and at least 250 injuries that may be linked to the Firestone tires.
Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone have insisted that they did not know until this year that the tires were defective.
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