Traffic Safety Advocates Raise Concerns Over Rental Car Safety; Call for Federal Regulation

Years after a terrible automobile accident on the West Coast, auto safety advocates and traffic safety experts are starting to push hard for federal regulation of rental cars and the companies that rent vehicles to the public. According to various news articles and other media outlets, this latest drive stems from a 2004 car crash that resulted in the death of two sisters who were killed when their rented Chrysler PT Cruiser had a mechanical problem, which led to a collision with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer rig.

That crash eventually led to a wrongful death lawsuit brought against Enterprise Rent-A-Car by the mother of the two women, 24-year-old Raechel Houck and her 20-year-old sister, Jacqueline. According to court records, the vehicle the two rented on that fateful day was part of a recall campaign involving the car’s defective power-steering system; however, at that time the rental company had yet to make any repairs to the car.

As a matter of fact, those two women were not the first to have rented the vehicle while it was under the recall order. Based on reports, Enterprise had rented the vehicle to three prior customers following the recall notice being issued. The resulting failure of one of the steering components precipitated the eventual crash that killed the two young women.

According to court records and news reports, power steering fluid apparently began to leak onto a hot part of the engine or vehicle, most likely the exhaust manifold or other parts of the vehicle exhaust system. The fluid reportedly began to burn, causing a fire to quickly engulf the engine compartment as the women continued to operate the vehicle on the highway.

Whether the fire caused additional system failures, or if it caused the driver to lose control through fear or panic is likely immaterial. The fact that there was a fire and the condition led to a loss of control by the driver apparently was enough to satisfy the jury. Once the driver lost control of the vehicle, it reportedly rammed into the tractor-trailer, killing the both women at the scene.

In the end, the Enterprise admitted its responsibility in the case. Being judged liable for the crash, the company was ordered by court to pay the sisters’ mother $15 million in damages. While a large sum, it apparently wasn’t enough to send a message to other rental companies, or so it would seem based on calls for better regulation of that industry.

In hopes of circumventing another tragedy such as the Houcks’, an effort to prevent accidents like this one — that is, those that could occur through a lack of performing needed repairs on a recalled vehicle – a number of U.S. senators brought forth the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2011. The pending law has been crafted so as to grant regulatory authority to two federal agencies — the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Through this law, the FTC could regulate the rental car industry using laws already in existence that protect the public against deceptive trade practice; In addition, the NHTSA could legally track and monitor safety features found in vehicles rented to the public.

Together, these two agencies would be able to monitor and enforce federal requirements that ensure rental car companies perform the necessary and needed recall-related repairs on any vehicle in their fleet before they can rent those cars or trucks to the public. You can learn more about this legislation by clicking Here

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