The U.S. Secretary of Transportation wants to incentivize whistleblowers who give tips leading to actions against auto industry safety violations, and the government is contemplating a potentially handsome split of proceeds if it comes to that.

After a year of record recalls that included a documented death toll from hushed-up risks, the U.S. Senate has approved a bill giving the Transportation Secretary discretion to award those who expose perceived safety issues at automakers.

If the Department of Transportation or Justice Department follow through with enforcement actions, the bill allows whistleblowers to receive up to 30 percent of the total monetary penalties. The bill covers employees or contractors of motor vehicle manufacturers, parts suppliers and dealerships.

The legislation was first proposed last November and will potentially allow industry employees to be paid millions if they reveal hidden dangers that companies and automakers might try to keep quiet.

In May 2014, General Motors paid a record $35-million fine to NHTSA over tardy recalls. If a whistleblower had alerted the agency, they could have collected up to $10.5 million under the new bill. The bill also takes into account whether the whistleblower had the opportunity to report the problems internally and the significance of the information supplied. Naturally it will protect the identities of the whistleblower.

“This bill provides important incentives for whistle-blowers in the auto industry to bring safety concerns to the attention of federal regulators when harmful safety defects are not reported,” said Senate Commerce chairman, John Thune, R-S.D. “While laws and regulations currently provide certain penalties for unaddressed safety failures, this legislation seeks to help identify and stop problems before anyone is killed or seriously injured.”

The Detroit News

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