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Tough airbag-fraud bill awaits Brown

A bill that would penalize auto repair dealers for committing fraud in fixing airbags has passed through the Legislature and gone to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until Oct. 9 to sign or veto it.

State Sen. Sam Blakeslee and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, both Central Coast Republicans, supported the bill.

Under the bill, an automotive repair dealer who purports to replace a deployed airbag but who in fact fails to fully repair and restore it, would face a fine of $5,000 and/or a year in prison.

The bill’s author, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, quoted a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that said the most common reason for a malfunctioning airbag was that the airbag was missing or never replaced after a previous crash.

A recent report by National Public Radio showed some dealers and repair shops stuffed airbag compartments with aluminum cans, shoe leather, packaging materials, and even paper, he said.

“Some of the stories we have heard involving airbag repair, or lack thereof, are simply unconscionable,” Yee wrote in a news release. “This legislation will ensure consumers are protected and body shops are accountable.”

Yee conceded that the exact number of fraud cases is impossible to determine. But he cited several cases, including:

A San Diego couple who lost their son in a car accident as result of a fraudulent airbag repair in which the body shop filled the steering wheel with paper instead of a new airbag. They were awarded a $15 million judgment against the owner of an auto repair shop.

A Houston woman who was badly injured and her mother killed in 2003 after a collision in which the passenger airbag was simply stuffed back in and taped shut and the driver’s side airbag was completely missing.

A student in Seattle who died in a 2003 crash after her previously deployed airbag was simply cut out and a fake dashboard inserted.

“It is long overdue to have real penalties for deceiving consumers and putting lives at risk,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

The legislation is supported by the Certified Automotive Parts Association, the Consumer Federation of California, Consumers Union, the Trauma Foundation, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, among others.

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