LANHAM, Md. (WNEW/AP) — When 16-year-old Amber Marie Rose died on a suburban Dentsville, Maryland, street in the middle of the night in July 2005, a police report made it seem like another all-too-common car accident involving a teenage victim.
Investigators said speed and alcohol were considered factors in the crash. They also said it didn’t appear that she was wearing a seatbelt.
But Rose’s family later learned that things may have turned out very differently had their daughter not been driving one of millions of GM vehicles with defective ignition switches.
Laura Christian, Rose’s mother, and Jack Fitzgerald, the owner of Fitzgerald Auto Malls, are now among those fighting for auto safety recall reforms in Maryland so similar tragedies can be prevented.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held the first hearings on three proposed reform bills last week and House committees will hear their versions of the bills on March 10.
Fitzgerald says that legislation they are hoping to see pass in Maryland is, to him, a First Amendment issue.
“People are losing their lives on the road because manufactures are hiding safety problems, delaying recalls, and forcing dealers to withhold critical information,” he says.
An example of this information shrouding by manufacturers was present in the case of the GM ignition switch defect, which has since prompted more than 16 million vehicle recalls and been blamed for 57 deaths at latest count.
The problem was that the switch could easily slip out of the run position, knocking out power steering and causing engines to stall. With the engine being stalled, airbags would not deploy if the vehicle then crashed.
Christian believes that’s what happened to her daughter. The airbags of the brand new Chevy Cobalt Amber was driving when she died never deployed.
CBS News reports that GM sent a bulletin to dealers explaining the problem years before recalls were first issued in 2014, but downplayed the issue. Dealerships were only told to warn customers not to dangle too many objects from their key chains and the word “stall” was not used in the bulletin.
“The outrageous delays in getting cars with serious safety flaws recalled are putting the lives of our customers at risk,” Fitzgerald says. “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 bills would, among other things, protect freedom of speech for state car dealers and dealerships so they would be able to communicate product safety issues without worrying about retaliation from manufacturers.
“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,” Fitzgerald says.
“Then the market will start to work to make all of us safer on the road.”
As for manufacturers, “they’re trying to avoid doing the work in the warranty, and when I say they, I mean all of them, collectively,” Fitzgerald says. “They’re kicking the can down the road, all of them.”
According to The Baltimore Sun, the legislation’s local critics include the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association and Republican Del. Robert G. Cassilly of Harford County, who believes dealerships could misuse it to convince customers to come in for unnecessary repairs and maintenance.
Representatives of Mazda and Volkswagen also testified against the bill, according to The Sun, saying the federal government already publicizes potential defects.
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