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Bill aims to deflate counterfeit airbag sales

Special to the Legal News

Published: July 22, 2013

Backed by industry support, a Marysville lawmaker is pushing a bill that would modify airbag replacement standards.

House Bill 177, sponsored by Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, would ban the installation or reinstallation of a counterfeit or nonfunctional airbag in a motor vehicle, and the manufacture, import, sale or offer for sale of a counterfeit or nonfunctional airbag.

“Automobile manufacturers, (the Department of) Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and (U.S.) Customs and Border Protection, have been working since 2010 to combat counterfeit and nonfunctional replacement airbag sales into the United States,” Pelanda said.

“Often, the counterfeit airbags are visibly comparable in almost every physical attribute except for the automobile manufacturer’s unique labeling system.”

Pelanda said testing has shown such airbags can malfunction in several ways, including late deployment, deployment with insufficient force and even non-deployment.

“Some are filled with rolled paper towels that clearly would not provide protection to a consumer in a crash,” she said. “These airbags present a serious safety problem potentially affecting thousands of drivers on the road today.”

Pelanda said there has been a “dramatic increase” in recent years in the number of counterfeit and nonfunctional replacement airbags sold over the Internet.

“Although every new car is equipped with authentic airbags, the counterfeit airbags come into play after an accident that caused airbag deployment,” she said.

“The majority of repair shops in Ohio are honest, reputable businesses. Unfortunately, there are a small number of dishonest shops that choose to defraud unsuspecting customers. It is those shops and persons that support them that this bill targets.”

HB 177 has been endorsed by the Ohio Insurance Institute and the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association.

“The 0II believes the passage of HB 177 will help protect Ohioans against the unscrupulous practice of manufacturing and installing nonfunctional airbags,” said Patrick Foltyn, OII government relations director.

“The installation of such equipment not only takes advantage of consumers’ trust, but more importantly jeopardizes their safety. Airbags are proven safety measures that protect motorists from more serious injuries when they are in the unfortunate circumstance of an automobile accident.”

Foltyn said the proposed legislation addresses a “growing threat to auto safety.”

Tim Doran, OADA president, said the organization’s franchised dealers take pride in being properly trained in airbag installation.

“It is no secret that a properly installed, fully functional airbag is extremely important to the safety of Ohio motorists and their passengers,” he said. “Unfortunately, counterfeit airbags continue to surface in the marketplace, posing serious threats to consumers. HB 177 would provide a valuable tool to state and federal authorities to protect Ohio’s motoring public.”

On the federal level, Pelanda said thousands of counterfeit airbags have been confiscated in raids across the country.

“To date, six federal arrests and prosecutions have occurred in Michigan, Tennessee, North Carolina and the state of Washington,” she said. “Due to increased enforcement efforts from U.S. Customs and homeland security, the number of counterfeit air bags seized increased to 65 shipments in 2012 from 13 in 2011. These seizures took place at airports in New York, Cincinnati and Cleveland.”

Last October, Pelanda said the National Highway and Safety Administration issued an alert about counterfeit airbags.

“The efforts of federal officials have brought much-needed attention to the issue, but, unfortunately, federal counterfeit laws are limited in their ability to protect consumers,” she said.

HB 177 states that whoever distributes counterfeit or nonfunctional replacement airbags is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor on the first offense.

On each subsequent offense, or if the violation results in bodily injury or death, the offender is guilty of a fifth-degree felony.

“Each manufacture, importation, reinstallation, sale or offer of sale in violation of this law would constitute a separate and distinct violation,” Pelanda said.

“It is important to understand that this legislation is about safety and crime prevention, and not about eliminating competition. In fact, due to the high costs of manufacturing and certification, there are no aftermarket replacement airbags. Legitimate airbags, including replacement ones, come only from the original equipment manufacturer and the independent Ohio dealers that sell them.”

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Cheryl Grossman, R-Grove City, applauded the measure’s passage in the House.

“The trend of counterfeit airbags from foreign countries has resulted in the deaths of innocent people,” she said. “I am pleased to co-sponsor this bill as we put a stop to this illegal and dangerous practice.”

HB 177 will now move on to the Ohio Senate.

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