World and Nation

In Washington, Toyota’s problems lead to a new appetite for car safety

In the new world of auto regulation, cars could be required to have “black boxes” to record crash data and be able to stop even with the engine at full power. Automakers could be ordered to recall defective vehicles immediately and pay safety fees to cover the costs of federal oversight.

For the first time since Firestone tires were exploding on Ford Explorers a decade ago, Congress on Thursday began working on legislation that would impose far-reaching safety standards on the auto industry, including some steps that advocates have been seeking for years.

What began in September as a crisis for Toyota, which has recalled more than nine million vehicles worldwide because of safety issues involving accelerator pedals, has become a catalyst for regulatory change. And the effort looks to have support, at least for some features, in the Obama administration, both political parties and the industry itself.

“Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Toyota circumstances have focused everyone’s attention on what needs to change,” said Ami Gadhia, the Washington policy counsel for Consumers Union, the parent of Consumer Reports magazine.

Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which held a subcommittee hearing on Thursday, and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, who heads the Senate Commerce Committee, have prepared parallel bills that are serving as the general framework for the proposals. More hearings are expected in both houses in the coming weeks.