Senator Boxer champions rental car safety law

Senator Rockefeller agrees rental car safety belongs in large auto safety billCiting the tragic crash that killed Raechel and Jacqueline Houck in an unsafe Enterprise rental car, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) spoke passionately about the need to prohibit rental car companies from renting unsafe, recalled vehicles to the public. Sen. Boxer quoted a former Enterprise manager, who said in a court deposition: “When demand called, we rented out recalled vehicles. If all you have on the lot are recalled vehicles, you rent them out … It was a given. The whole company did it. Enterprise’s corporate offices looked the other way regarding this fact.“

Sen. Boxer made this statement as a member of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, which voted to move forward with legislation to re-authorize the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. She pledged to work to ensure that the final bill presented on the Senate floor addresses the problem of unsafe rental cars.

Cally Houck, mother of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, praised Sen. Boxer for her strong stand for improving rental car safety, noting that it was ” very politically courageous.”

The owner of Enterprise Rental Cars, Jack Taylor, is the richest car guy in the nation. For years, he has been listed among the top richest people in the nation, in the Forbes list of the richest people in the U.S.

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See video of Sen. Boxer, speaking at Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Dec. 14, 2011: Sen. Boxer on the CARS YouTube channel

Rental car companies play “rental car roulette”

~ Endanger customers’ lives
~ Try to defeat law to prohibit renting vehicles under a safety recallIn letters submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last April, major rental car companies admitted to federal regulators that they keep renting vehicles to the public, even when they know they are so unsafe they are being recalled by the manufacturer due to safety defects.
For example, Enterprise Rental Car Co. wrote that:
“A committee of senior executives of the parent company, including the executives responsible for vehicle maintenance and repair, evaluates recall notices. If the committee is confident that we can continue to safely rent the vehicle, we may rent the vehicle prior to the recall work being completed.”
Dollar Thrifty wrote that they also second-guess the manufacturer and NHTSA, stating:
“[It has formed a] Vehicle Safety Team [that] is comprised of the Senior Executive Vice President of Operations, the Vice President of Fleet Operations, the Executive Director of Maintenance, and a Corporate Attorney…Dollar Thrifty’s Vehicle Safety Team evaluates safety recall notices to determine if a Hard Ground Response (i.e. vehicle not rented until vehicle is remedied), a Normal Response (i.e. defect remedied at next maintenance event), or a customized response is warranted…Based upon information in the recall notice and additional consultation with the relevant manufacturer, Dollar Thrifty draws distinctions between safety recalls based on the degree of safety risk posed by the defect.”

The letters from the rental car companies were submitted to the federal safety agency, in response to a formal Audit Query. The trade association for the rental car companies also stated, in a letter to members of the U.S. Senate, that after their member companies get recall notices, within the next 30-60 days, they usually fix only about 80 – 90% of the unsafe vehicles. Meanwhile, thanks to a loophole in the law, they may continue to rent or sell them to unsuspecting customers.

Obviously, 30-60 days is too long, and 80-90% is not enough. In one tragic case, two sisters, Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, ages 24 and 20, were killed by an unsafe Enterprise rental car about 30 days after Enterprise received the safety recall notice from the manufacturer. Meanwhile, Enterprise rented the defective vehicle to 3 other people. Any of them could have been killed. The car, a Chrysler PT Cruiser, was being recalled because it had a defect in a steering component that would cause an under-hood fire and also a loss of steering control. Raechel and Jacquie were riding in the car when the defect occurred. Witnesses saw the vehicle on fire. The sisters ended up colliding with an 18-wheeler, and the PT Cruiser exploded into flames. Their mother, Cally Houck, and brother, Greg Houck, have become ardent advocates for changing the law so other families will be spared the same horrific loss.

Eventually, after more than 5 years of denying it had any liability, and trying to blame the crash on the young women, Enterprise admitted it was 100% responsible for the deaths of Raechel and Jacquie — about a week before the case was heard by a jury.

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