A mother of two Santa Cruz women killed in a 2004 crash says she will press on with her petition drive asking Enterprise Rent-A-Car to agree to ground recalled vehicles until they are repaired.
“We will prevail, with the help of all of us working to fix this consumer safety problem,” said Cally Houck, who lives in Southern California. “We made it this far. We are going all the way.”
Houck’s daughters, Raechel, 24, and Jacqueline, 20, died in a fiery crash driving a PT Cruiser with an unrepaired safety defect that was rented from Enterprise. The defect was a power steering hose prone to catch fire, and a jury awarded parents of the Houck sisters $15 million in damages.
Federal law prohibits manufacturers and new car dealers from selling recalled vehicles before they are repaired. But that law does not apply to rental car companies.
A week ago, news came out that industry giant Hertz had struck a deal with safety advocates to accept federal oversight. Enterprise, the nation’s largest rental car company, did not.
The next day, Houck posted an online petition at www.change.org, hoping to get 25,000 signatures. In two days, the petition garnered more than 133,000 signatures. It now has more than 146,000.
Enterprise Holdings, which owns Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental, later announced it would support federal legislation overseeing the way rental car companies manage the safety recall process.
“The tragedy of theHouck sisters deaths can never be undone, and all of us at Enterprise are profoundly sorry,” according to a statement issued by Enterprise spokeswoman Laura Bryant. She said, “Enterprise and others in our industry have made many significant changes and improvements in the process for inspecting and repairing recalled vehicles.”
In the past, Enterprise maintained additional government oversight was unnecessary.
“A growing number of people, including our customers and business partners, clearly want more assurance on this critical issue,” Bryant’s statement read. “We hear them, and what we’ve heard has caused us to rethink our stance.”
In June, the Government Accountability Office, the federal government watchdog agency, issued a report taking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to task for the overall low repair rate of recalled vehicles. Nearly 15 million vehicles were recalled in 2010, and only 70 percent got fixed within 18 months, according to the report, which found many vehicle owners unfamiliar with www.safercar.gov, which the highway administration uses to communicate about defects.
Roll Call, the newspaper that covers lobbying and influence on Capitol Hill, reported Monday on Houck’s online petition, attributing Enterprise’s change of heart to pressure from consumers. Bryant told Roll Call Enterprise has “not endorsed any specific legislation or amendment to date.”
Rental car safety legislation has yet to advance in Congress. It was introduced as a stand-alone measure in July by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., supports the regulatory effort, calling it “a no-brainer.” She proposed an amendment on rental car safety regulation for discussion by the Commerce, Science and Transportation, but withdrew it after Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the committee chairman, agreed to take up the matter when the legislation reaches the Senate floor.
The rental car legislation is likely to be offered as an amendment to Boxer’s surface transportation funding bill this week, according to Roll Call.