When people get ready to buy a car, they may spend a great deal of time researching the various safety features and ensuring (if it isn’t brand new) that it’s checked by a licensed mechanic. But when they rent a vehicle, they may barely give much thought to the vehicle, other than it’s size and how accommodating it will be a for a trip.
Yet up until very recently, it was perfectly legal for rental car companies to loan out recalled vehicles to unsuspecting customers – without making repairs or warning customers of the danger. That should alarm motorists everywhere, but it’s especially troubling here in South Florida, which has a booming rental car industry from tourism. Now consider that there have been record vehicle recall rates in recent years – with an average of 900 recalls annually breaking down to some 2.5 every single day. In the last two years, more than 100 million vehicles were impacted by safety recalls. To give you a better idea of how big that is, there are a total of 260 million vehicles registered in the U.S.
The good news is that now, following an arduous legal battle, the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2015, which passed as part of a larger transportation bill, went into effect June 1, 2016 and mandates that rental car companies with 35 or more vehicles in fleet must ground any recalled vehicles until they can be repaired.
Although the rental car industry comprises a relatively small percentage of the total vehicles registered in the U.S., it nonetheless poses a significant threat not only to the passengers of those vehicles, but everyone else who shares the road with them.
The law requires that vehicles in the fleet that have been subject to recall must be grounded within 24 hours of the notice. Rental car companies may be given up to 48 hours if the recall affects a substantial portion of their fleet.
One issue that has raised some concern is that the law says the clock starts ticking on that 24-hour window as soon as the rental company receives written notice of the recall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), either via email or U.S. mail. (It should be noted that e-mail transmission of recall notices isn’t standard at this juncture). But in all reality, recall information is made known weeks or even months before the NHTSA submits a written recall notice to rental car companies. This information regarding the recalls is widely available to the public from the NHTSA, the auto manufacturers and the news media. And yet, the law doesn’t correct the disparity of the timing.
So technically, a rental car company may have knowledge of a recall weeks or even months before they legally have to do anything about it.
Still, the rental car company likely could still face a more substantial exposure to liability than before if a Fort Lauderdale car accident is caused by a defective rental car and there is evidence the company had constructive knowledge (knew or should have known) about the recall, and yet failed to act.
Overall, though, the measure is likely to improve safety for those who rent vehicles and those who share the road with them.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Safe Rental Car Act: What Now? April 2016, By Chris Brown, Auto Rental News
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