It’s hard to believe it was once perfectly legal for rental car companies to rent out defective vehicles that had been recalled without making the proper repairs or warning customers. Even harder to believe is the fact that the law has only just changed.
Effective June 1, 2016, a new law prohibits rental car companies from failing to fix recalled vehicles before renting them out to unsuspecting consumers.
For years, safety advocates had been trying to pass this measure, and it was finally approved last year as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015. The law is applicable to any rental car company with a fleet of more than 35 vehicles. Additionally, the measure empowered the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate reported violations and to punish those companies that fail to comply.
The bill gives rental fleet operators just 24 hours from the time a recall is announced to either have the car fixed or park it until repairs are made. A company may be given 48 hours if the recalled vehicles comprise more than 5,000 vehicles in the companies in the fleet.
Although the rental car industry had fought the measure for years, ultimately the American Rental Car Association supported the measure. By the time the law finally passed, a number of rental car companies like Hertz, Enterprise and Avis Budget were already on board with the law before it formally went into effect.
Although only operations with 35 cars or more are bound to the law, there are efforts underway to extend the measure to all rental car companies. Until then, it may be worthwhile to consumers to ask about fleet size an whether the company is required to follow the law.
The law was championed by the family members of Jacqueline and Raechel Houck, two sisters in their early-20s killed when the vehicle they rented from an Enterprise rental car company had been recalled but not repaired. They were actually the fourth customers to rent the vehicle after the recall. At no point did staffers inform them of a potential problem. Not long after they left, the vehicle began leaking steering fluid and the sister who was driving lost control of the vehicle, causing her to crash into a semi-tractor trailer. Both women were killed instantly.
Their mother would later say she “never in a million years” thought it was legal for a rental car company to knowingly allow paying customers to rent defective vehicles. She ultimately won a $15 million verdict against Enterprise.
This issue is one that affects almost everyone because defective vehicles are dangerous not just to the passengers inside that car, but to everyone else who shares the road. Just in 2014 alone, there were nearly 900 vehicle recalls affecting some 51 million vehicles nationally. That is a huge portion of vehicles on the road.
Although personal vehicles are in many ways getting safer, with crash avoidance technology and better safety features to protect individual passengers, the fact is many vehicle manufacturers are still making vehicles or vehicle parts that are defective. Rental car consumers have a right to know.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
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Report: Fatal N.C. Truck Crash Involved Trailer With No Working Brakes, July 7, 2016, Asheville Car Accident Attorney Blog