With 2014 Recalls in the Rearview, Congress Looks to Address Defect’s Continuing Threat to Motorist Safety

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Many who closely follow automobile safety and, thus, product defects and recall have declared last year the Year of the Recall. 2014 kicked off with revelations of the GM ignition switch vehicle defect. The GM ignition switch defect can cause a vehicle that is being driven to shut down if the key is bumped into or jostled.   The vehicle shutdown will prevent the driver from controlling the vehicle and deactivates the airbags. Thus, if the out of control vehicle strikes another object, at least one essential safety system will be nonfunctional and likely lead to more severe injuries.

Following the ignition switch defect news, the Takata airbag inflator defect grew from being dismissed out-of-hand by the manufacturer and automakers to a regional recall before, over the objections of Takata, being expanded nationwide. This defect can produce gruesome violent injuries or death due to the metal shrapnel that can be launched into the air by the vehicle airbag. Further revelations have indicated that the company may have known about the defect for more than a decade.

Then, after years of whistleblower accusations, a Texas jury returned a verdict against Trinity Industries for modifications the company made to US DoT-approved guardrails without providing notification, as required by law. Safety advocates claim that these changes prevent the rails from working as intended and will actually cause them to act in a fashion similar to a spear, instead of absorbing forces, as it is intended to do. There have been reports of the gaurdrail passing through the vehicle and impaling the occupants.

Defective vehicles from the airbag and ignition switch recalls may, however, remain on the road for years or even a decade or more following the recall due to the lack of a federal law requiring the owner to seek repair.

Defective Used Vehicles are Not Required to be Repaired

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Federal vehicle safety regulators believe that the average completion rate for a recall is approximately 75 percent. However, the older the vehicle, the less likely the owner is to bring it in for service following a recall notice. The reasons that people fail to get their recalled vehicle repaired differ, but often it comes down to the limited time that is available in a person’s life. They may delay going in for repairs due to a busy schedule and eventually forget to schedule an appointment. In other situations a lack of parts or qualified service personnel to perform the work can also result in delay that eventually results in the necessary repair being forgotten about. However if legislation proposed by Senators Markey and Blumenthal becomes law, state motor vehicle authorities will be required to step-in and oversee motorists compliance with recall notices.

How Would the RECALL Act Improve Highway Safety?

The bill would require the state agency in each of the 50 states that is responsible for vehicle registration, the Arkansas Office of Motor Vehicle (OMV) in this state, to notify vehicle owners about open recalls affecting their vehicle by searching the recall database by the vehicle identification number (VIN). The state agency must then notify the driver of the open and unrepaired defects by the date that it would notify the driver of his or her need to register the vehicle. If this is an initial registration or if the recall is announced after notification but prior to registration, the vehicle owner must be notified of the open defect prior to the completion of the registration process. Furthermore, in most cases, the state must require the driver to complete all open safety recall repairs before the registration can be permitted. In recognition of some of the hardships a rule of this type could create, it provides for a number of exceptions including:

  • The vehicle owner was not notified of the safety recall on or prior to the date of notice for registration.
  • The owner can show there was no reasonable opportunity to complete these remedies. The state may grant a temporary registration for up to 60 days
  • Local dealerships have been unable to provide the parts or personnel necessary to make the repairs.

Should this bill be passed into law and a state be deemed noncompliant, it can lose up to 5 percent of its transportation funding for the year. The goal is to encourage states to enforce recalls, improve the rate at which remedies are completed and to get vehicles with old defects off of the roadways. If successful this legislation should eliminate a known and unnecessary highway safety risk.

Arkansas Car Accident Attorney Ken Kieklak Can Help You

Hopefully the RECALL Act or other similar legislation will be passed into law and improve the safety of our roads and highways. However if you have already been injured due to a vehicle defect, Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law may be able to fight for you. For more than 20 years, Ken Kieklak has fought on behalf of injured Arkansans. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call (479) 251-7767 or contact us online today.

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