Hidden Dangers in Cars

November 17, 2016

Torts in the News

Hidden Dangers in Cars

Automobiles have been closely tied to the law of torts for a century. There have been many automobile-related lawsuits, ranging from cases involving the operation of cars (who ran the stop sign?) to defects and dangers in the design and manufacture of the automobiles (and other motor vehicles) themselves. And because tort law is quality control, cars and trucks are safer as a result.

Still, it is worth noting that motor vehicles still pose significant threats to the health and safety of passengers, sometimes in unexpected ways. Two recent articles which highlight this are found in the New York Times.

On October 26, 2016, in an article titled “Used Cars Slip Past Recall Safeguards, Putting drivers in Danger,” Rachel Adams and Hiroku Tabuchi reported on the dangers of cars for which recall notices have been issued, but repairs have not been made. As they noted, “[There are] a group of drivers especially vulnerable to dangerous vehicles: second, third or even fourth owners, who purchased their vehicles in transactions far removed from the protections offered to buyers of new cars.”

This is because “there is no explicit federal requirement that sellers of used cars fix problems related to safety recalls, or even disclose the recalls, the way new-car dealers must.”

And this is a big problem. last year, roughly 38 million used cars were sold across the country, which is more than twice as many as cars that were sold new.

This is an article worth reading. As the authors note, there is an online government database, which anyone can use, to see if there are recalls associated with a given car. The vehicle identification number is necessary to use this. The link is here: https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/

The New York Times also reports on another hidden danger of cars, this time with overseas cars. The article is “Thinking of Renting a Car in Yucatan? Think Twice,” by Tanya Mohn, which appeared in the New York Times on October 31, 2016.

This article points out that

When Americans rent a car in the United States, they have come to expect a certain measure of safety. But in some parts of the world, it can be a different story. The car driven at home may have many of the latest safety features, but the same make of car rented abroad may not have even the most basic ones. (Emphasis added).

This effects millions of cars sold around the world. As the author notes, “improvements introduced decades ago for cars sold in Europe and the United States are not found in many new models sold in middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

Several auto safety groups organized a crash test between a 2016 Nissan Versa, sold in the United States, and a Nissan Tsuru, a model “popular for rentals and taxis in Mexico.” The results were devastating. The Tsuru had no airbags, and in a crash test, caused injuries probably sufficient to kill a passenger on impact. The crash test dummy in the Versa, by contrast, would have only sustained minor knee injuries. “It’s the worst performance I ‘ve ever seen, said David Ward, who leads one of the safety groups involved in the [crash] test and referred to the Tsuru as a ‘Deathtrap.’”

Although Nissan has indicated that it will stop production of the Tsuru, that won’t be until next May. The article states:

The Latin American chapter of Mr. Ward’s group noted that Tsurus had been involved in more than 4,000 deaths on Mexico’s roads between 2007 and 2012. Despite the decision to end production, as least 15,000 of the ‘potentially life-threatening model’ might be sold before Nissan Mexico stops making it.

The article concluded by noting that “when American cruise ship travelers arrive in a foreign country, there is often a big line in front of Hertz or Avis stands, so they go to the counter of a local rental car company with no line. It’s usually a mistake.”

These two articles serve as cautionary warnings to consumers. Be careful out there.