Changing the Car Business

A Maryland mother and a local car dealer teamed up to craft a bill that could fundamentally change car recalls.

Laura Christian admitted she was a little nervous shaking hands in the Senate Judiciary Committee room in Annapolis.

"Amber's going to get me through it,” she told the News4 I-Team.

Christian said her 16-year-old daughter died after the air bags failed in their Chevy Cobalt. The air bags would eventually be recalled, but Christian said car dealers knew about the problem long before then. "There was a technical service bulletin," she said. "They called it a customer convenience issue. It was a life safety problem."

She's joined car dealer Jack Fitzgerald to push for a state law they say would be the first of its kind because it would protect dealers who publish technical service bulletins on their website.

"We are prohibited contractually from disclosing this type of information,” Fitzgerald explained. He said there were a record 64 million car recalls last year, twice as many as the previous record set in 2006. The bill would allow dealers to inform the public about potentially dangerous problems before a recall, he said.

But Peter Kitzmiller of the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association, who normally lobbies on Fitzgerald's behalf, is against the change. "We are not qualified to determine if there is a defect or if this particular car is broken,” he told the I-Team. “That's dangerous. I represent 300 new car dealers. You can't have 300 dealers putting info out based on technical service bulletins."


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But Christian said she thinks the dealers are afraid of losing their franchises by angering the car manufacturers. "Says to me they're scared.” she said. “They're the little guys. But I hope they're secretly cheering us on."

But Kitzmiller said that wasn’t true. “That's the most offensive part of this," he said. "They're basically saying new car dealers are allowing you to drive defective cars because we're scared. That's not true."

But Fitzgerald told the I-Team, “I'm afraid of the factory, too. You would have to be an idiot not to."

The 80-year-old dealer said he's been punished financially by his car manufacturers before for speaking out, but that’s not fazing him. He plans to keep advocating for the law in hearings scheduled for the next few weeks. “This is important to me," he said. “I don't know what I would do if I lost my little girl."

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