ANNAPOLIS, Md., April 1, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The auto safety disclosure bill the MD House passed in March (HB 525) does very little to protect drivers from dangerous defects, leading safety and consumer advocates say, and flies in the face of new safety and defect disclosure rules issued last week by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Leading consumer groups including Public Citizen, the Center for Auto Safety, and the Consumer Federation of America have joined Consumer Auto in calling on the MD Senate to strengthen the bill to better protect consumers.
"The bill would sharply limit our ability to share with our customers the information about defects the manufacturers share with us in service bulletins, warranty updates, and other communications," notes Jack Fitzgerald, the president of Fitzgerald Auto Malls who has run a string of car dealerships in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Florida for 50 years.
"It's absurd for Maryland law to prevent us from telling our customers about information that Congress and NHTSA say should be public. That's a terrible disservice to the people who rely on us to sell and service their cars," Mr. Fitzgerald argues.
On March 26, NHTSA published new rules in the Federal Register to enforce the MAP-21 law Congress passed in 2012. The rules insist that all communications from car manufacturers to dealers about safety and defect issues must be shared with federal safety regulators and made available to the public on NHTSA's website. The bill the Maryland House passed would, in most cases, prevent dealers from disclosing that same information to their customers.
You can read the full regulation here: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-03-25/pdf/2016-06759.pdf
House Bill 525 would allow dealers to share such information only if a customer comes in for service and asks about a problem mentioned in a service bulletin or if the dealer confirms that a car in its service shop has that problem.
"Under these rules, if you go to Jiffy Lube to get your car serviced instead of the dealer, you probably won't find out about important safety information your dealer has," Consumer Auto Executive Director Franz Schneiderman notes. "Or if you take your car to the dealer but don't ask the right question or the dealer doesn't happen to notice the problem, you probably won't find out – unless you happen to search for it on the little-known NHTSA site."
"That leaves too many drivers exposed to dangerous and sometimes deadly defects and deprives consumers of information about problems that could become very expensive repairs years later," says Schneiderman.
Few people understand more vividly how dangerous unknown defects can be than Laura Christian, the birth-mother of a 16-year old girl named Amber Marie Rose who died in a 2005 accident caused an ignition switch failure in her new Chevy Cobalt. Her daughter was one of at least 124 people who died due to a defect that GM told dealers about in a technical service bulletin in Dec. 2005, but didn't fully disclose to the public until it began recalling more than 2 million dangerous vehicles in Feb. 2014.
Ms. Christian, who has worked for the last decade to win justice for Amber and other victims of the GM defect and testified before the MD Assembly calling for much stronger safety disclosures, believes the Assembly needs to do much better for defect victims and other Maryland drivers.
"Drivers need someone to make an effort to let them know about defects," Christian says. "The House bill preserves way too many restrictions on the safety information dealers can share, and will leave too many Marylanders in the dark and in danger from defects the manufacturers haven't made public."
Consumer Auto and other consumer advocates are working with the MD Senate to amend the House bill to enable dealers to disclose all the safety and defect information they get from car manufacturers to all their sales and service customers.
"There's just no justification for keeping that information from the customers who need it most," states Mr. Fitzgerald. "Dealers need to be able to stand up for the safety of their customers, and we won't stop working until Maryland's law allows us to do that."
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.
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SOURCE Consumer Auto