Should We Regulate Cars More Tightly?


The death of two sisters; Raechel, 24 and Jacqueline Houck, 20 of Santa Cruz, Calif., in 2004 have spurred increased demand for stronger government oversight in the car rental industry. The Enterprise rental car they drove caught fire under the hood causing lose of steering and veering across the median, crashing head-on into a semi-trailer truck. The car exploded on impact, killing both sisters.

Investigation showed Enterprise received a safety recall notice from the manufacturer 30 days before the fatal crash but continued to rent the car to unsuspecting customers.

Enterprise alleged the sisters must have been suicidal. Enterprise later retracted their allegation about one week before the trial went to a jury.  The jury awarded Mr. and Mrs. Houck $15 million in damages.  Mr. and Mrs. Houck did not want the death of their daughters to become just another statistic. They took their loss to the law and created the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act, a bill to designate certain conduct by car and truck rental companies to motor vehicle safety defects and recall as unfair and deceptive acts or practices to be regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and for other purposes.

A loophole known as Graves Law prohibits states from imposing vicarious liability onto non-negligent rental and leasing companies remains in place. Review of this law was denied by the Supreme Court on Nov. 28.

Opposition comes from The Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA). It states The Graves Law has saved non-negligent TRALA members hundreds of millions of dollars annually in potential frivolous lawsuits and legal costs since it passages in 2005.  

Avoid playing “rental roulette” using a smart phone and enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from the rental car the company is offering. The VIN will be located on a tag on the dashboard as well as on a sticker on the driver’s doorjamb. Go to the manufacturer’s website and in the search box enter “safety recall.” Enter the VIN to see if there is a pending safety recall, or if the repairs have been completed.

Don’t have internet access? Ask the clerk to use the company computer to check the manufacturer’s website and print out a copy of the car including the VIN and hand it to you. Verify the VIN on the report matches the one on the car.

Personally, I support stronger legislature regarding car rental safety. However, I also believe additional taxes should not be allowed to part of this legislature.

The Senate will be voting on this law after February 27. You may make your voice heard at and/or signing the letter posted on open congress above.

What are your thoughts on this major safety issue? 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons