Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY-17) introduced legislation this week -- along with colleagues Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA-23) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9) -- to ensure the safety of rental car drivers by prohibiting the rental or sale of vehicles under a recall. The legislation -- The Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2012 - was introduced in honor of the Houck sisters who were tragically killed while driving a recalled Chrysler PT Crusier, rented from a Enterprise Rental Car in California in 2004.
"This necessary legislation is a simple fix to ensure no one else will be put in danger by driving a rental car which has been recalled," said Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce. "What happened to Raechel and Jacquie Houck was a tragedy which could have, and should have, been avoided. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this legislation. I applaud Cally Houck for her tireless work on this issue. Hertz and other stakeholders should also be commended for supporting this legislation. This bill will save lives, and I call on my colleagues and the other car rental agencies to support this legislation."
The bill would close an existing gap in safety standards by requiring rental car companies to ground recalled vehicles as soon as they receive a safety recall notice, and prohibit the vehicles from being rented or sold until required repairs are made. Auto-dealers are already subject to these requirements and the bill would simply extend the same requirements to rental car companies. In instances where a recalled vehicle is currently being rented, a rental car company would be required to notify the renter as soon as practicable.
About one month before the Houck sisters were killed, Enterprise received a recall notice that the PT Cruiser had a defective steering component that was prone to catching fire. The part would be repaired by Chrysler free-of-charge. Despite the warning, Enterprise did not get the vehicle repaired, and rented it out to three other customers before renting it to the Houck sisters. The defect caused the car to catch fire and crash head-on into a tractor-trailer, killing both sisters.
The legislation is supported by Carol S. "Cally" Houck, mother of Raechel and Jacqueline, Hertz, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, National Association of Consumer Advocates, and the Trauma Foundation.
"If a recall notice has been issued for a rented car, that car should be taken off the road until it's fixed -- it's that simple," said Capps. "Passing this straightforward bill will protect the public's safety and ensure that what happened to Raechel and Jacquie Houck will never happen again. I've been proud to work with Cally Houck, the mother of Raechel and Jacqueline, auto safety advocates, and Hertz to put forward this commonsense proposal, and I will continue working with all stakeholders to reach agreement on a legislative solution that protects consumers by prohibiting rental companies from renting or selling unrepaired recalled vehicles, with no exceptions."
"It's inexcusable that there is a loophole allowing rental car companies to keep unsafe vehicles on the road -- endangering the lives of tens of thousands of rental car drivers and their families. It is the responsibility of car companies to ensure consumers and their families are not putting themselves at risk by unknowingly renting vehicles subject to recall," said Schakowsky. "I applaud my colleague Rep. Capps' leadership on this issue. I am pleased that an agreement could be reached with Hertz to close this loophole and I hope other car rental companies follow their lead. This is a common sense bill that would protect the public's safety and save lives. All consumers should feel confident that the vehicle they are driving is safe."
"I deeply appreciate Representative Capps, Engel, and Schakowky standing up for consumers. This legislation will help spare other families from suffering such a horrendous loss because of a careless rental car company," said Cally Houck.
"This bill sends a clear message to Enterprise, Dollar, and Thrifty, which have been working behind the scenes to oppose Cally Houck's efforts -- it's time to stop playing 'rental car roulette' with their customers' lives," said Rosemary Shahan, President, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.