Victim's Mother and Consumer Advocates Call for Reforms in Auto Safety Recalls

Car buyers need better safety information

Feb 23, 2015, 05:00 ET from

ANNAPOLIS, Md., Feb. 23, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Auto safety advocates will begin testifying in Annapolis Tuesday for a package of innovative reforms that promise to speed up the recall of unsafe cars, help get better safety information to MD carbuyers, and make sure every car purchaser has a fair chance at a good deal on a new car. 

Key supporters of the legislation include Jack Fitzgerald, Laura Christian, and Jack Fitzgerald is the chairman of Fitzgerald Auto Malls and one of MD's leading car dealers for almost 50 years. Laura Christian is the mother of Amber Marie Rose, a 16-year MD girl who in 2005 became one of the first people to lose her life as a result of the deadly ignition switch flaw that has now caused the recall of more than 16 million GM cars.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold the first hearings on the reform bills on Feb. 24.  House committees will hear the three bills on March 10.

"The outrageous delays in getting cars with serious safety flaws recalled are putting the lives of our customers at risk," Jack Fitzgerald notes. "Dealers need to make sure safety recalls happen much more quickly. We need to make it possible for our customers to get the warranty and repair work they need done, when they need it done."

The reform package comes after a record 64 million U.S. vehicles were recalled to address safety and repair problems in 2014. In the case of the GM ignition switch failures, and in many of the other recalls, the safety fixes now underway come many years, sometimes more than a decade, after manufacturers knew the cars carried serious safety flaws.

"People are losing their lives on the road because manufactures are hiding safety problems, delaying recalls, and forcing dealers to withhold critical information," Fitzgerald said.

At least 56 people have died, and hundreds have suffered devastating injuries in crashes that could have been prevented if the flawed GM ignition switches had been repaired in a timely fashion.

Laura Christian knows the pain those losses caused first hand, after her daughter Amber lost her life when the airbag in her new Chevy Cobalt failed to inflate when she struck a tree on July 29, 2005.

"Amber was a warm, special person who charmed everyone she met," Christian notes. "Her loss was devastating to our family. And when I learned that Amber died as a result of a safety flaw GM failed to address, I was shocked."

"I was even more outraged when GM did little to respond to the concerns my family and the families of hundreds of other victims raised about the unsafe cars," she adds.

The reform bills will take a series of critical steps to get safety information to carbuyers and make car deals more fair and transparent including:

  • Protecting freedom of speech for MD car dealers to ensure they can communicate crucial safety and product issues to customers on their websites, by email, and in other forums.
  • Preventing giant automakers from retaliating against dealers for protecting or informing consumers and limiting punitive audits they use to hurt dealers they think are doing too many warranty repairs.
  • Making sure the same incentives are available on the same model cars at every dealer in the state so that every customer has the same opportunity to get a good deal on his or her car.
  • Holding auto manufacturers financially accountable for deceptive advertising and phony incentive offers by their dealers.

The reforms will get better safety information to carbuyers and free dealers from coercive practices by automakers that make it difficult for dealers to do the repair work customers need.

"That will speed up the recall process, help get more repairs done more quickly and prevent many accidents like the one that took my daughter's life," Christian explains. "And that would mean the world to families like mine."

"When dealers are free to disclose full information and do repair work without fear of retribution by the carmakers, you'll see the responsible dealers compete to deliver good information and outstanding repair service to their customers," Jack Fitzgerald adds. "Then the market will start to work to make all of us safer on the road."

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold hearings on two of the bills (SB 558 and SB 559, sponsored by Sen. Susan Lee) on Tuesday. The Senate Finance Committee will hear SB 587, sponsored by Finance Committee Chair Sen. Thomas Middleton on March 5.

The House of Delegates will hold hearings on its versions of the three bills on March 10. The House bills are HB  1078 and HB 833, sponsored by Del. Barbara Frush, and HB 586, sponsored by Economic Matters Committee chairman Del. Dereck Davis.

Please Note: You can hear more from Laura Christian about her daughter's accident and what happened when she tried to get General Motors to address the problems that caused her death in this brief video: