With Washington lawmakers set to go home for their summer recess, family and friends of two sisters killed in a 2004 rental car crash received at least one bit of good news.
The Senate passed a 6-year highway bill on Thursday that includes the terms of the long-delayed Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act. The House won’t deal with the measure until lawmakers return to the capital in September. But if they also approve the measure it would ensure that rental car companies can no longer keep cars in operation that are subject to recall until the necessary fixes are made.
The two California sisters were killed in a crash of a Chrysler PT Cruiser they’d gotten from Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Initially, the company attempted to blame 24-year-old Raechel, who was driving, going so far as to say she might have been “suicidal or on drugs.” But a jury later disagreed,
In a 2010 verdict, a jury issued a $15 million verdict against Enterprise, concluding the company had failed to make fixes after learning of a Cruiser recall ordered because of a defect that could cause a driver to lose steering control.
A turning point in the case came when Mark Matias, who had served as an Enterprise area manager in San Francisco, near where the accident occurred, acknowledged in court that, “When demand called, we rented out recalled vehicles, it happened, I won’t lie.”
(“No way” nation should tolerate 33k annual highway deaths, says NHTSA chief.Click Here for more.)
The Safe Rental Car Act has been facing Congress since first being introduced in 2012 and would make it illegal for rental car companies to engage in what one dubbed “rental car roulette.” Vehicles would have to be immediately grounded when a relevant recall was issued, noted the grassroots group, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.
“Still more steps to go before we can declare victory, but this is a big deal getting the bill out of the Republican Senate,” says CARS President Rosemary Shahan.
Shortly after the 2010 jury verdict was rendered, Enterprise said it would voluntarily follow the policies now included in the bill named after the Houck sisters. Most of the other major rental companies, such as Hertz and Avis, have followed suit. But a few larger companies and some smaller ones have not signed on voluntarily, according to surveys by CARS and other safety groups.
Chrysler, which manufactured the PT Cruiser involved in the Houck crash – and which was just hit with record fines for its poor handling of recent recalls – opposed the Safe Rental Car Act. But Honda recently joined General Motors, the first manufacturer to support the measure.
(Hammered by biggest recall fine ever, Fiat Chrysler promises to fix its safety system. Click Here for more.)
Proponents were hoping the Senate would go even further at a time when U.S. automotive recalls have been running at record levels. But the bill that passed in the waning hours before the summer recess notably excluded language that also would have banned car dealers from selling used vehicles subject to recall unless they were first repaired.
It’s unclear how House lawmakers will respond when they return to Washington, but the Safe Rental Act is part of a broader Transportation Bill considered one of the top Congressional priorities considering the money it will appropriate is needed to keep the nation’s highways and mass transit systems moving. A short-term, stop-gap bill will tide things up over until the end of the recess.
(Click Here for more about the recall of 1.4 million Jeeps to fix a hacking problem.)