The aftermath of Amber Marie Rose's fatal crash on July 29, 2005. A Washington Post story quotes police citing alcohol and speed as factors in the accident. Police also reported that Rose was not wearing seat belts. However, the engine shut off while driving and the airbags subsequently did not deploy, reportedly due to the ignition switch failure. (Photo: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 23, 2016)—New car safety legislation before the Maryland legislature would improve public access to key safety and warranty information as it fights unfair practices by big carmakers. The legislation known as "Amber's Law" offers a package of reforms that promise to save lives by speeding up repairs and recalls, especially in the face of record-breaking car recalls and a series of high-profile auto safety scandals, including deadly GM ignition switch failures and long-delayed recalls of Takata airbags that have killed at least 10 drivers.
The bill (HB 982/SB 666) is sponsored by Del. David Fraser Hidalgo in the House of Delegates and by Sen. Susan Lee in the Maryland Senate. The House Environment and Transportation Committee will hear the bill on March 3. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will consider it on March 10.
"Our bill is about safety and transparency for all Maryland drivers," Senator Lee notes. "It's a scandal that consumers today aren't getting the full information they need. This bill changes that equation to protect Maryland families."
The legislation enables dealers to share warranty policy updates, service bulletins and other key safety information with all customers. Under current practices, auto manufacturers share such information with dealers but often prohibit dealers from disclosing it to drivers unless they specifically ask about a related problem.
"That secrecy deprives drivers of information they need to know—information that can save lives and help consumers keep their cars safe on the road," Consumer Auto executive director Franz Schneiderman argues. "Our bill makes clear that dealers can share that information with their customers. The sunshine that puts on dangerous defects will speed up repairs and recalls for all drivers."
The bill honors Amber Marie Rose, a 16-year old Charles County girl who died on July 29, 2005 as a result of an ignition switch failure in her new Chevy Cobalt. Amber was among the first of at least 124 people to die because of failures in that 99-cent part.
General Motors knew about the defect for at least a decade before finally beginning to recall more than 2 million dangerous cars for repair in February 2014.
Amber's birth-mother, Laura Christian, has worked for years to hold GM accountable for its long delay and to win justice for Amber and for the family members of other victims of the GM scandal.
"If we had known what GM knew about the ignition switch defect in 2005, we never would have bought that car—and Amber would be with us today," Christian notes. "The bill honors Amber by getting information that can save lives to all Maryland drivers and allowing dealers to stand up for their customers."
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition on change.org asking the MD legislature to change the rules to get critical safety information to drivers like Amber. You can see the petition here: www.change.org/p/keep-car-buyers-and-drivers-safe
Key provisions of the bill include:
• Preventing carmakers from punishing dealers for sharing safety information, repairing cars under warranty, or exercising other rights.
• Easing the audit pressures that make it difficult for dealers to repair cars under warranty.
• Allowing dealers to publish more complete safety, price and product information on their websites so consumers have easy access to that information online.
• Letting dealers buy more supplies from lower-cost Maryland suppliers—a "Buy Maryland" rule that will save dealers and consumers money and support other MD businesses.
• Increasing the maximum fines for carmakers that violate MD consumer protection laws.
• Making sure dealers can use a trial by a jury of consumers to fight abuses by carmakers.
This package of reforms "works together to get consumers crucial safety information and to enable dealers to serve as the first line of defense for their customers," House bill sponsor Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo argues.
"Passing the bill will improve safety, help consumers make better-informed car buying and car repair choices, and cut costs for Maryland drivers," the delegate concludes.
Consumer Auto is a coalition of advocates, consumers and people in the auto industry working for consumer safety and greater fairness and transparency in car sales. You can learn more at www.consumerauto.org.
Amber Marie Rose. (Photo: Change.org)