Car safety database still MIA

September 22, 2008 7:19:21 PM PDT
It was designed to be a national database of used cars the federal government says would protect consumers and improve public safety. But, 16 years after Congress approved the database, it still doesn't exist.

Three consumer groups sued the federal government to speed up implementation of that data base, and on Monday, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled in their favor.

Christina Bolotova received a much needed hug from her mom. A year after she bought her first car, the 23-year old San Rafael woman was told by the DMV that she had bought a car branded as salvaged.

"I was kind of shocked. I thought it was a mistake," says Christina.

The salvaged title meant it had been totaled in a wreck before she bought it. That title also decreased the value of her car 20 to 40 percent.

"My insurance company said there was nothing on CarFax. There was nothing at all that showed the car as being salvaged," says Christina.

"CarFax doesn't have the authority that the government would have to require insurance companies across the country to submit data or to require state DMVs to submit the info or junk yards and salvage yards, " says Deepak Gupta, attorney.

That's why Gupta along with two public safety groups asked Judge Marilyn Patel to force the U.S Attorney General's Office to speed up implementation of the database -- one that originally was approved by Congress in 1992. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to talk to us on camera.

"If you're buying a used car, the number one question on your mind id 'was this in a wreck or a flood?'. And if things go well today, consumers will have better access to that information," says Rosemary Shahan, Center for Auto Reliability and Safety.

But, in court papers filed in U.S. Federal Court, they said the lawsuit should be dismissed. They say the consumer groups lack standing and the Statute of Limitations has passed.

Judge Pattell ruled against the government and ordered the database to be fully implemented by March 31.

Today's pending court decision is important to car buyers like Christina. With 7 On Your Side's help, she was able to get all her money back.

There's no question that the consumers of the United States won. This was a plan that was put in place by congress over 10 years ago. It's a great bargain for consumers in that it helps them be better consumers when they buy a vehicle," says Dean Johnson, ABC7 Legal Analyst.

"I'm thrilled. I think the judge really cut to the chase and held the government's feet to the fire and the result couldn't have been better," says Gupta.

Judge Patel told the U.S. Attorney's Office that if the deadline is not met, they will have to appear in court to explain why.


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