Seeking to stop car rental companies from renting or selling potentially unsafe vehicles to consumers, a group of U.S. senators has introduced the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2011 (S. 1445), which would prohibit these companies from allowing consumers to rent or sell vehicles subject to a manufacturer’s recall.  

Sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the bill would also require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate whether the companies are renting cars without standard safety features, such as air bags. Schumer said that the proposed legislation “will make it clear that if there is a defect in a car it either gets fixed, or it doesn’t get rented.” It would provide civil penalties of up to $11,000 per day per violation and ensure enforcement through the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.

According to Schumer, the bill was named for California sisters who died when their rented vehicle, which had been recalled because of possible leaking power-steering fluid, caught fire and crashed into an oncoming semi-tractor trailer. It would require NHTSA to investigate and report to Congress (i) sales to rental companies of motor vehicles lacking standard safety features, and (ii) sales by rental companies from the time a recall description is posted on the NHTSA Website to the time the rental company receives official notification about it. See U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer Press Release, July 28, 2011.