by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
The mother of two victims of a 2004 car crash involving a rental car that had been recalled told lawmakers on Tuesday that enacting legislation to prohibit a future reoccurrence was a “simple fix.”
The comment, from California resident Carol Houck, belied the nearly decade-long quest that preceded Tuesday’s hearing on the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2013.
The Senate transportation committee’s consumer protection subcommittee held a hearing on the bill (S. 921).
Houck pleaded with the panel to approve the bill, which was named in honor of the two daughters she lost after the 2004 accident that involved a recalled rental car.
“Nobody should have to endure the loss of a loved one because a rental car company didn’t bother to get an unsafe, recalled car repaired,” Houck said after recounting the circumstances of her daughter’s crash. “This is simple to fix. This is do-able now. Please pass this law.”
The accident that killed Houck’s daughters was attributed to a steering hose defect in the rental car they were driving.
Houck is no stranger to members of Congress.
Two of the sponsors of the recalled car rental ban bill, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have held numerous press conferences at the Capitol with Houck in attendance to pressure rental companies to voluntary agree to the terms of the pending legislation.
The bill bars the rental or sale of cars that are “subject to a safety recall” and authorizes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate and oversee rental car companies’ procedures for safety concerning recalled cars.
The car rental industry initially resisted signing Boxer’s “pledge” about abiding by the legislation before it was passed, but eventually, the major U.S. car rental companies signed on.
The American Car Rental Association (ACRA) said Tuesday that it had “serious reservations with the broad scope” of Boxer and Schumer’s initial proposal for the legislation to address recalled car rentals.
The agency’s executive director, Sharon Faulkner, said it decided to work with the senators who were purposing a bill “we ultimately concluded that our costumers would expect us to support this type of legislation, and if we could achieve a workable solution, we would do just that.”
Faulkner said ACRA “pro-actively engaged in a dialogue with the staffs of Sens. Schumer, Boxer, [Claire] McCaskill [D-Mo.] and [Roy] Blout [R-Mo.] with other stakeholders such as key members of our industry and consumer advocates, including Mrs. Houck.”
“We wanted to ensure that as an organization that we didn’t just support a bill for the sake of supporting it…but a bill we could emphatically get behind and support,” Faulkner said. “S. 921 is such a bill.”
The Alliance of Automobile Manufactures was not as on board with the legislation Tuesday.
The group’s president, Mitch Bainwol, said that auto manufacturers “completely identify with the goals of the bill sponsors,” but he said the measure “as currently drafted will give rise to unintended, negative consequences for consumers.”
“First, this bill pits businesses against ordinary consumers in recall situations,” Bainwol said in remarks submitted to the Senate transportation committee.
“To minimize out of service time, rental car companies will demand (and have demanded) ‘front of the line’ access to parts and service, which may force ordinary consumers – moms and dads driving their family vehicles – to the back of the line for recall repairs,” he said.
Bainwol added that the bill could “increase costs by giving rental car companies the opportunity to pursue ‘loss of use’ damages against manufacturers.”
“They entered into the voluntary agreements without loss of use benefits,” he said. “Legislation that fundamentally changes the economic relationship by instituting this claim is problematic and will produce increased costs that ultimately will be passed along to consumers.”
Bainwol said that “not all recalls are the same,” and he added that “all recalls are subject to review and approval by [National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration],” whether they were initiated by automakers themselves or by regulators.
“The overwhelming majority of recalls do not direct consumers to stop driving their vehicles,” Bainwol said. “However, this bill requires all rental cars to be grounded no matter the circumstances of the recall. This provision gives rise to a myriad of anti–consumer impacts.”
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told lawmakers that all of his agency’s recalls are about important issues that affect the safety of cars.
“All NHTSA safety recalls address an unreasonable risk to safety and should not be ignored,” Strickland said in testimony submitted in advance of Tuesday’s hearing.
“Unfortunately, we do not have the statutory authority to protect rental car consumers,” Strickland continued. “Currently, there is no prohibition on rental car companies renting vehicles that are under a recall, but have not yet been remedied. That is precisely why the legislation you are considering today is so critical.”
Houck told lawmakers in personal terms why she has thought for years that should be changed.
“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,” Houck said.
“Recalled cars endanger the lives of everyone who shares the roads — not only the people who are riding in them,” she continued. “While my daughters happened to collide with an 18-wheeler, and as a result the truck driver and his co-worker suffered relatively minor injuries, it could just as easily have been a minivan full of kids, with even more lives lost.”