On Sept. 7, 2014, 26-year-old Jewel Brangman was involved in a car accident in the Los Angeles area that took her life. But the accident itself didn’t kill her, shrapnel from the explosion of the car’s airbag did.
Brangman was identified last Friday as the eighth fatality caused by defective Takata airbags. She was driving a 2001 Honda Civic from Sunset Car Rental in San Diego. A notice was mailed in June 2013 to Sunset, informing it of the airbag recall.
The vehicle was first recalled in 2009 for faulty airbags, after which four recall notifications were mailed to registered owners. Sunset Car Rentals purchased the vehicle, with a salvage title, at auction in 2011. Brangman rented it in August 2014.
Obviously, the repairs were never made.
Sunset Car Rental has closed its doors; the company’s owner would not respond to our communication. Brangman’s father has filed a lawsuit against Honda, Takata and Sunset Car Rental.
Meanwhile, proposed federal legislation requiring companies to not rent vehicles under recall has been in existence for nearly three years. Among other groups, the American Car Rental Association and the major car rental companies support this legislation.
The major car rental companies already abide by the tenets of the proposed legislation. They don’t rent vehicles with open recalls. Tragically, this is not the case with all car rental companies.
Mark Rosekind, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said on Friday in testimony: “The fact that this was a rental vehicle that had not been remedied is more evidence for why we are seeking authority to prohibit sale or rental of any vehicle with an open safety recall.”
The issue here isn’t about how grounding and fixing rental vehicles with open recalls puts a considerable burden on operations and customer service. It’s not about the dramatic rise in recalls, public perception or a calculation of lost revenues. It’s not about the inconveniences of operating within a system of recall notification that needs fixing. It’s about preserving human life.
To the smaller car rental companies: I implore you not to wait for the law to pass. Don’t wait for a better recall notification system, because it most likely won’t happen soon. You have the tools to understand if your fleet vehicles are under recall and you have the ability to repair them. Do it now. Do not pass go.
The Brangman tragedy brings from theory to reality the need to pass this recall legislation. We need to ensure that all rental companies — from the large corporate companies, to the franchise systems to the large and small independents — conduct business by the same rules cemented in federal law.
It is the obligation of all car rental companies to maintain your customers' trust in the industry. It is your obligation to exercise the utmost duty of care to protect your customers.