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Auto Safety Reforms Fail to Gain Support in Congress

In the wake of the massive and deadly General Motors ignition switch and Takata airbag recalls, Congress has been debating several important auto safety reforms. Unfortunately, it appears that very few will ever become law.

As The New York Times reports, a Senate Committee recently rejected several bills intended to address the rise in deadly motor vehicle recalls. Under one proposal, auto industry executives would face stiff criminal penalties, including jail time, for failing to disclose safety defects and take appropriate action.

“Hiding these deadly defects with near impunity is what the industry has succeeded in doing,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who proposed several of the rejected measures.

Another proposal would have prohibited used-car dealers from selling vehicles with unrepaired recalls. While existing law requires new car dealers to repair vehicles with existing recalls prior to sale, the same rules do not apply to previously owned vehicles. As we previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, several used auto dealers, such as CarMax, have come under scrutiny for selling recalled vehicles to unsuspecting consumers.

Thankfully, the committee did approve a few auto reforms. Lawmakers voted to advance a measure that would increase the maximum civil penalty imposed on automakers from $35 million to $70 million. They also advanced a proposal to prohibit the rental of motor vehicles with known defects.

Legislation to ban rental companies from renting cars with unrepaired safety recalls has been pending for several years. A prior measure was named after two young women who died in a 2004 California car accident involving an Enterprise rental car. A month before Enterprise Rent-a-Car rented a PT Cruiser to Raechel Houck, 24, and her sister Jacqueline, 20, the rental agency was informed of a serious safety defect—power steering fluid could leak and ignite under the hood. Because Enterprise failed to remove the vehicle from its fleet of rental cars, the two sisters later died in a fiery crash.

Negotiations are expected to continue until the transportation bill reaches the Senate Floor, so there is hope that at least some of the proposed reforms will be revived. We will be closely tracking the legislation and will post updates as they become available.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured by a dangerous or defective vehicle, don’t hesitate to contacta San Diego product liability attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.