Baltimore Sun: Ungag auto dealers

2/2/16 Baltimore Sun.

Every time I open up a newspaper or turn on the nightly news there seems to be a new headline positioning General Motors as this decade's "comeback kid." Though GM has returned to profitability, it has done so at an immense expense to those who wrongly trusted this company to provide them with safe vehicles: It cost more than 120 lives and years of heartbreak for those of us left behind. But, that is a storyline no one is talking about.

Amber Marie Rose, the daughter I gave up for adoption at birth, and the other victims of these senseless tragedies were killed by a dysfunctional ignition switch that can lead a car's engine and electrical system to shut down and disable its air bags, a defect the company tried to hide instead of fix. GM failed to protect drivers and passengers, yet the company was let off with nothing more than a fine and some meaningless oversight penalties — perhaps because so much money and political capital was invested in GM with the auto bailout.

The victims and their families deserve justice for the immeasurable losses we have suffered. I reunited with Amber when she was 15. A year later in 2005, she was killed when her Chevrolet Cobalt crashed and the car's airbag didn't deploy. I won't rest until I know I have done everything in my power to change how the auto industry operates to help ensure safety problems like this are never swept under the rug again.

One effort I am working on to accomplish this goal is taking place right here in Maryland — my home, Amber's home. Over the last few months, I have been working closely with several state lawmakers to introduce the Amber Rose Bill, which would give free speech protections to Maryland auto dealers who wish to disclose potential issues to consumers.

Dealers constantly receive technical bulletins from car companies about issues, but disclosing these issues to their customers isn't something that they are allowed to do under their franchise agreements. The Amber Rose Bill, which has not yet been filed, will change this practice and give local dealerships permission to share what they know with all consumers. For example, if a consumer takes their car into a dealership for a routine auto check, that dealer's service department would be allowed to alert the customer about potential safety issues and defects — even if a recall or official notice from the auto manufacturer hasn't been released.

Consumers need to have better access to important safety and product information about their cars. It is time to curb abusive practices by automakers like GM — including retaliation, audits and limits on the ability to disclose information — that make it difficult for local auto dealers to do the right thing for their customers. The Amber Rose Bill will do just that.

Little has been done to rectify GM's wrongdoings. But Maryland lawmakers can take a stand for consumers and pass meaningful reform to keep more drivers safe behind the wheel — regardless of the type of vehicle they are operating. This common sense legislation is a policy change everyone in Annapolis should get behind. Doing so will send a strong signal to Washington and other states to follow Maryland's lead. Anyone who shares my sentiment should contact their legislators and ask them to pass the Amber Rose Bill. With so many policy issues to consider this year in Annapolis, it is important for our elected officials to know that their constituents want this bill's passage to be a priority. I have also created a petition on Change.org urging the bill's passage; as of Tuesday, it had more than 97,000 signatures — nearly two thirds of the way to the 150,000 signature goal.

When it comes to automobile safety, consumers cannot afford to sit in silence and trust the manufacturers to do the right thing. Maryland drivers are truly counting on the General Assembly to take action and I hope our state representatives won't let us down.