Bill proposes to make recalled cars illegal to rent


This bill is the result of one mother's crusade to right what she sees as the wrong that left her two daughters dead. In Sacramento, however, the opposition remains strong.

Rachel and Jacqueline Houck of Santa Cruz never had a chance; the sisters lost control of their rental car and slammed into a big rig. Both of them died. The car had been recalled just one month earlier for steering problems. Seven years later, it is still difficult for their mother to talk about what happened.

"I don't dwell too much on those minutes. It's still terribly uncomfortable. It leaves a big hole in my being," said Cally Houck, Rachel & Jacqueline's mother.

Cally is now lobbying for a bill that would outlaw the rental of recalled vehicles unless they have been fixed. The safety act is named after her daughters.

"It's a fitting memorial to their memory," said Cally.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car rented the car to the girls. It and other rental car companies are against this bill. And on Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, they lined up to speak out against it.

"The bill is utterly unclear. We have tremendous exposure under the bill. It's not clear what we can do. We are asking for clarity," said Gene Erbin from Enterprise.

Enterprise asked that cars be let back on the road after interim repairs are made, pending a permanent fix. Avis and Budget wanted the bill to be applied to all vehicle fleets, not just rental cars.

"It would not impose this requirement on taxi cabs. It would not impose it on limousines. It would not impose it on airport shuttles. Those are the competitors of the rental car industry," said Gordon Hart from Avis/Budget.

Assm. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, authored the bill and promised to work with the industry to address concerns. Consumer advocates argue this bill is just plain common sense.

"It's needed because rental car companies keep renting out and selling cars that are under a safety recall before they've been fixed and that puts people's lives at stake. They're basically playing rental car roulette," said Rosemary Shahan from Consumers for Auto Reliability & Safety.

"What we want to do is make sure any family that rents a car, any individual, when you sign that contract you have a warrant from the company that they're renting you a safe vehicle," said Monning.

The bill passed the judiciary committee 4 to 1. Cally sees every vote the bill gets as a tribute to her daughters.

"They were forces to be reckoned with and they've given me a lot of strength. They whisper in my ear, 'Go for it Mom.' They were warriors and I guess I have to be now," said Cally.

The bill now moves onto the Senate Finance Committee and we'll be watching to see if the rental car companies plan to fight it there as well.

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