I-Team Probe Leads To Air Bag Safety Legislation

A 10News I-Team investigation into faulty and fake air bags being placed inside cars has led to results.

In 2009, the I-Team looked into the car involved in a crash that killed an 18-year-old man. An investigation showed air bags in the car the man was riding in did not deploy.

The I-Team also learned the auto repair shop where the car was purchased stuffed the air bags with newspaper.

As a result of the investigation, the man's family won a $15 million lawsuit, but has never collected a dime.

Now a proposed state law will impose stiff penalties for failing to fully repair or restore airbags.

"Your reporting of the San Diego situation caught a hold of all of us into action," state Sen. Leland Yee said.

Yee is the author of the bill that would make poor air bag repair illegal. It would carry with it a $5,000 fine and up to one year in prison.

"You have a responsibility to do the right thing, because lives are at stake," Yee said.

The bill has passed every stage of the legislative process unanimously and now goes to the full Legislature.

If passed, Gov. Jerry Brown could sign it into law.

The following is a press release sent Tuesday outlining new air bag safety legislation:

Committee Approves Airbag Safety Legislation Study finds malfunctioning airbags often the result of fraudulent repair

SACRAMENTO – The Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee has unanimously approved legislation to protect consumers from fraudulent repair of car airbags. SB 869 -- authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) -- would create a new crime of $5,000 and/or one year in prison for an automotive repair dealer who purports to replace a deployed airbag but who in fact fails to fully repair and restore it.

According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 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 (NPR) showed some dealers and repair shops even stuffed airbag compartments with aluminum cans, shoe leather, packaging materials, and even paper.

"SB 869 will save lives," said Yee. "Some of the stories we have heard involving airbag repair, or lack thereof, are simply unconscionable. This legislation will ensure consumers are protected and body shops are accountable."

"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. "Senator Yee’s SB 869 would help address these numerous occurrences of auto repair fraud, particularly where consumers pay over $1,000 for replacement airbags and don’t get them."

While the exact number of fraud cases is impossible to determine, several cases demonstrate the need for the legislation.

In 2009, 10News in San Diego reported on a father and mother who lost their son due to air bag fraud and were awarded a $15 million dollar judgment against the owner of an auto repair shop. Their son was killed 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.

In 2003, a Houston woman was badly injured and her mother killed 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.

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

In addition to the Center for Auto Safety, SB 869 is supported by Certified Automotive Parts Association, Consumer Federation of California, Consumers Union, Trauma Foundation, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, among others.

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