Blumenthal Requests Review of Rental Truck Safety

(Hartford, CT) –Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood requesting an analysis of the present gap in federal oversight and safety requirements for certain rental vehicles.

In the letter, Blumenthal writes, “Recent reports of rental truck safety violations are revealing and alarming…Most recently, a fatal accident in Connecticut has raised serious concerns about safety and reliability of rental trucks.  Although no conclusions are possible at this point as to the cause of this tragic accident, it squarely raises the issue of rental truck safety and scrutiny generally, which I now request your involvement in addressing. I ask for your assistance and independent analysis as I consider legislation or other steps necessary to eliminate any gaps in present safety standards and oversight--and in the Department of Transportation's authority to set such standards and impose oversight.”

Rental vehicles similar in size and carrying capacity to commercial vehicles - many of which may be older and more heavily used than commercial ones - are not subject to the same stringent federal safety standards as commercial fleets. Blumenthal, who also wrote to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), is requesting independent reviews and recommendations to determine whether additional federal oversight of the rental vehicle industry is warranted.

The text of the letter follows:

The Honorable Ray LaHood
Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

I am writing regarding federal oversight and safety inspection requirements for rental vehicles -- particularly large trucks -- that are used by millions of Americans. I understand that many of these vehicles are similar in size and carrying capacity to trucks used in commercial fleets but are not subject to the same stringent federal safety standards. This absence of safety oversight is particularly troubling because many rental truck companies have fleets that are older and more heavily used than similar commercial vehicles. Recent reports of rental truck safety violations are revealing and alarming.

An investigation in 2007 by The Los Angeles Times found that more than half of 200 rental trucks surveyed were overdue for a monthly safety check of the vehicles' brakes, tires and other equipment, with some vehicles more than a year overdue for inspection. A 2005 Canadian review found similar, significant safety concerns. Most recently, a fatal accident in Connecticut has raised serious concerns about safety and reliability of rental trucks. Although no conclusions are possible at this point as to the cause of this tragic accident, it squarely raises the issue of rental truck safety and scrutiny generally, which I now request your involvement in addressing.

I ask for your assistance and independent analysis as I consider legislation or other steps necessary to eliminate any gaps in present safety standards and oversight--and in the Department of Transportation's authority to set such standards and impose oversight. Thousands of rental trucks are driven millions of miles every year across state lines--possibly without adequate inspection, maintenance, or repair required of commercial vehicles. The comparative absence of safety scrutiny for rental trucks is an issue of clear and urgent national importance, plainly within the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation. You need and deserve ample statutory authority to effectively address these safety issues just as surely as the public needs and deserves assurance that rental trucks are as safe as commercial trucks.

Your recommendations as to gaps or shortcomings in safety standards and oversight applicable to commercial trucks would be appreciated as well. My office is conducting our own review, in which I hope to make use of any information you can provide, and I will be consulting with my colleagues in the Congress to determine whether additional federal oversight of the rental vehicle industry is warranted. Thank you for your consideration of this request. I share your goal of ensuring the safety and reliability of our nation's roadways and vehicles, and hope that you will join me in addressing the need for additional statutory authority that your Department should have to close apparent legal loopholes and protect the public.

Sincerely,

Senator Richard Blumenthal

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