Every time I start to believe that members of Congress actually understand the basic principle that safety on our highways is a good thing, something happens in Washington to bring me back down to earth. In fairness, I have to believe that most of the members of the House and Senate really do understand how important safety is. So why don’t their actions reflect that understanding? A prime example, causing me to wonder what is really going on, involves a recent bill introduced last month by Senator John Thune, Chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
The Thune bill will decrease needed protection relating to defective rental cars. It would allow rental companies to rent cars that have unresolved defects so long as the rental company tells the consumer about the defects in writing. While the requirement of written notice may lead some to believe that this is a step forward in consumer safety, consumer protection organizations believe it’s really a step backward.
Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, stated, “This is going backward . . . this would be worse than existing practices for 95 percent of the industry.” Plain old common sense tells me that a rental company should not be allowed to rent a car when it knows that the car is under recall.
Many rental companies have existing policies that prohibit the renting of cars that are under recall. This new legislation could prompt rental companies to drop these policies or, at the least, reduce incentive to adopt such policies. Consumer groups have been working to get legislation passed that would prohibit the leasing of vehicles that are subject to a safety recall until the issue is fixed. The Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2013 sought to prohibit rental companies from selling or renting vehicles within 24 to 48 hours of receiving a recall notice. However, this bill never became law. If you wonder why, check out the lobbying efforts by the industry.
The proposed legislation was named in honor of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, two sisters from Santa Cruz, Calif., ages 24 and 20, who were killed while driving a recalled Chrysler PT Cruiser they had rented from Enterprise in 2004. About a month before the deadly crash, Enterprise received a recall notice that the PT Cruiser had a defective power steering hose that was prone to catching fire and that it would be repaired by Chrysler free of charge. Despite the warning, Enterprise failed to get the vehicle repaired and rented it out to three other customers before renting it to the Houck sisters. The defect caused the car to catch fire and crash head-on into a tractor-trailer, killing both sisters. That was a tragedy that never should have happened.
Cally Houck, the mother of Raechel and Jacqueline, has joined with consumer groups in support of legislation designed to close a loophole in safety standards. The proposed legislation would require rental car companies to ground recalled vehicles as soon as they receive a safety recall notice. It would also prohibit them from being rented or sold until they are fixed. Auto dealers are already subject to these requirements and the bill would simply extend the same requirements to rental car companies. In speaking in support of the bill named for her daughters, Cally Houch said:
If this bill had been in effect when my daughters rented that recalled car, they would still be alive today. No other parents should have to suffer such a horrific loss because a rental car company hasn’t bothered to get an unsafe recalled car repaired.
Plain old common sense, which is sometimes missing – and basic safety principles – should tell members of Congress that a car under recall for safety issues should not be rented to a person who is looking to rent a car. Not only does renting a vehicle under recall put the person renting at risk, a hazard is also created on the highways for others. Why is that so hard for our elected members of Congress to understand?
Sources: Bloomberg and Consumers for auto reliability and safety
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