A Dollar Rent A Car in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images )
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara Boxer wants major rental car companies to pledge not to rent out vehicles facing safety recalls until they are repaired.
Spurred by the 2004 death of two Santa Cruz women in a rental car, Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have sponsored legislation that would bar companies from renting or selling vehicles until safety defects that triggered recalls are fixed.
On Monday, Boxer said she wrote to the four leading companies -- Hertz Corp., Avis Budget Group Inc., Enterprise Holdings Inc. and Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc.-- asking them to voluntarily agree to "this basic commitment to protect consumers."
The pledge states, “Effective immediately, our company is making a permanent commitment to not rent out or sell any vehicles under safety recall until the defect has been remedied.”
Boxer said Hertz already has a policy consistent with the pledge and she wants the other companies to follow suit. She has given them 30 days to respond.
“I will announce at that time which companies have agreed to make this pledge and which companies have instead chosen to continue putting their customers’ lives at risk," Boxer said.
Since at least 1989, Hertz has had a policy not to rent or sell cars facing recall until they are repaired, said Richard Broome, a company spokesman.
Hertz has reached an agreement with Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a Sacramento advocacy group, on federal legislation similar to the Boxer-Schumer bill, Broome said.
"Our hope is the entire industry will come onboard because we think this is in our industry’s interests as well as consumers' interest," he said.
Spokesmen for the other companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Boxer and Schumer last year introduced the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act.
Raechel Houck, 24, and her sister Jacqueline, 20, rented a Chrysler PT Cruiser from Enterprise in 2004, a month after the company had been notified of a recall for the vehicle because power steering fluid could leak and ignite under the hood.
The Houcks died in a fiery crash. Last year, an Alameda County Superior Court jury ordered Enterprise to pay $15 million to their parents.
Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety has pushed to change the law to prevent future incidents.
Rosemary Shahan, the group's founder, said some rental car companies have argued that they should not be forced to pull recalled vehicles off the road because consumers who own such vehicles are allowed to drive them.
But the situations are not the same, she said.
"If it’s your car, you might ground it. You might decide you’re only going to drive it when you absolutely have to," Shahan said. "That’s very different from when you go rent a car from a reputable company. We don’t think you should have to worry that they’re knowingly putting you in an unsafe car."