The Ongoing Fight Over Dangerous Recalled Cars

At least 11 people have now been killed in incidents involving Takata airbags, which can send shrapnel into the driver when the devices malfunction. Huma Hanif, a 17-year-old Texas woman, was the most recent victim.

Hanif was in a slow-speed crash, one she likely should have walked away from. Instead, the defective airbag shot shrapnel into her neck. According to a court filing, after the crash, she “exited her vehicle and walked around holding her bleeding neck until she collapsed on the roadway, eventually succumbing to her injuries. She died an agonizing and horrific death.”

It may sound obvious, but cars with open safety recalls should be fixed. Last year, Congress passed a law specifically preventing rental car agencies from renting recalled vehicles, and the law went into effect last month.

But at car dealerships selling used vehicles, there is a different story: some dealers are selling used cars with safety recalls, whether for dangerous airbags or other problems. 

CBS News recently found several dealerships where they were offered such models, all while the salespeople implied that the vehicles had no problems. These dealers are putting their customers at risk.

The Federal Trade Commission made a complaint against General Motors and some GM dealerships, rightly noting that these dealerships were selling customers used cars with pending safety recalls while at the same time touting them as “Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles.” Customers were misled into buying “certified” cars that were actually dangerous.

But in January the Commission announced a proposed consent agreement with GM and the dealerships that would not help: it would specifically allow dealerships to continue to sell vehicles under recall, as long as they disclose to consumers that the vehicle may be subject to a safety recall. This does nothing to correct this deceptive practice and would even be a step backward: for a driver who is hurt in such a vehicle, they might not be able to hold the dealer accountable in court because the Commission had specifically sanctioned the practice of selling the dangerous cars.

The American Association for Justice submitted comments calling for the Commission to withdraw from the agreement, and to prohibit dealers from touting these cars as “certified.” And last week, a group of U.S. Senators called for similar steps.

The Commission’s final decision is pending.

Meanwhile, legislators in five states have introduced bills that would undermine existing laws that let consumers hold car dealers accountable for selling dangerous vehicles.