My readers may have been unaware, but until now, it was perfectly legal for a rental car agency to rent vehicles under a safety recall despite the vehicle not being repaired.
“When a family picks up a rental car on vacation [or a businessperson for travel], they should be able to expect it is free of any known safety defect,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “I thank Congress and the safety advocates who helped turn this common-sense idea into law.”
The federal law went into effect on June 1, 2016 and applies to all rental car companies with a fleet over 35 vehicles. The law also extends NHTSA’s recall authority to cover rental car companies for the first time, giving the safety agency power to investigate and punish violators.
The legislation was championed by Cally Houck, the mother of two daughters who died in a rental vehicle that was under a safety recall but had not been repaired. In 2004, Jacqueline and Raechel who were 20 and 24 years old, respectively, were killed after the Chrysler PT Cruiser they rented from Enterprise apparently began leaking steering fluid and suddenly caught fire before crashing into an oncoming semi-tractor trailer. It was later reported that the vehicle had been under a safety recall for the potential fire hazard, but was never fixed.
Houck lobbied Congress for years to approve the change. In 2013, she testified on Capitol Hill in support of the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act. “Every provider of rental cars, whether from a big rental car company, or a used car dealer, should be required to repair unreasonably dangerous defects before those cars are rented to the public,” she said in her testimony. “Recalled cars endanger the lives of everyone who shares the roads — not only the people who are riding in them.” The final version of the law passed last year as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015. The new law excludes companies with less than 35 cars, a compromise Houck said was made in order to gain passage. Safety advocates said they will continue to push for coverage for all rental cars, as well as target used cars which can still be sold without being fixed under a recall. As for Houck, she said her work is not done either, and she will continue advocating to fix flaws in automotive and other product recall systems. “I feel we’ve won a huge battle, but we haven’t quite won the war,” said Houck. “And the war is for corporations to take responsibility in any kind of situation where you have a recalled product and that recalled product causes injury.”
As a reminder, all vehicle owners should periodically check for recalls by visiting www.safercar.gov or calling 1-888-327-4236
Lawsuit Financial congratulates Ms. Houck and the safety advocates who made this happen for the safety of all motorists.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.