The auto industry’s margin for error is poised to shrink yet again.

Because of GM’s decade-long ignition-switch debacle that claimed at least 13 lives, a Missouri senator is pushing legislation that would effectively criminalize decisions by auto executives to withhold information on defective parts from the public and federal regulators.

The surprise, to the extent there is one at all, is that it took this long for a member of Congress to respond legislatively to the egregious facts of the GM case and what it portends for the buying public. Add President Obama’s avenging Justice Department, and you have a whole new ballgame.

Namely, fines that could easily rise into the billions of dollars — witness Toyota Motor Corp.’s $1.2 billion penalty in connection with its unintended acceleration recall scandal four years ago — now could be augmented with up to life in prison for auto executives who hide defects that could result in fatalities.

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New Justice Department Bill May Put Executives In Jail For Placing Profit Over Safety

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