Md. mom wants law to protect certain auto dealers

WASHINGTON — A Maryland mom who lost her daughter in a crash is pushing for a state law that protects dealers who disclose potential safety issues with vehicles before they are recalled.

Laura Christian, of Harwood, is supporting two similar bills that will be presented in the coming weeks to the Maryland House of Delegates and the Senate.

“Dealerships would be able to tell consumers when they bring the car in, or through other notification, if their car has a potential safety issue on it, when it hasn’t gone to recall yet,” Christian said.

Right now, correspondence between dealers and manufacturers on issues seen with specific models are shared in Technical Service Bulletins or TSBs. While the bulletins are available to all car owners online, many dealers have agreements with manufactures not to share knowledge of TSBs unless owners ask about an issue according to Christian.

It was in 2004 that Laura Christian reconnected with the daughter she put up for adoption back in 1988. A year later, her daughter died in a crash after she lost control of her Chevy Cobalt in Charles County. Both alcohol and speeding were factors in the crash, The Washington Post reported in 2005.

As the car left the road, the cars key switched into the “off” position, which Christian said prevented her daughter’s airbags from deploying. The ignition defect was the source of a large scale recall and allegations of a cover-up by General Motors.

According to Christian, before the deadly crash, there was a technical service bulletin about the risk that a heavy key chain could switch the ignition into the “off” position.

“If we had been told about that issue, Amber certainly would not have had all those keys and other objects on the key ring itself,” Christian said.

Christian said a law is needed to protect dealers from retaliation from car manufactures if they disclose the bulletins to owners who bring their cars in for service.

Dan Gage with Alliance of Automobile Manufactures calls the proposed legislation “anti-consumer.” He said TSBs are not recalls, and most are not safety related. Gage said the bulletins are an extension of a repair manual and are used to provide diagnostics and repair information to resolve a car owner’s concern.

“The legislation would create a new marketing opportunity for dealers to generate potentially unneeded service work even when customers are not experiencing a problem or have developed a concern,” Gage said.

Maryland State Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery County, said he is drafting a bill for the House of Delegates, which would protect anyone who shares vehicle safety information, including technical service bulletins, with car owners.

“It’s important that the dealers are acting in the best interest of the consumer and their customers when it comes to consumer safety and public safety,” Fraser-Hidalgo said.

State Senator Susan Lee’s office confirms, she is also working on a similar bill which will be introduced during the current legislative session.

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