Lara’s Law will help keep more Tennessee drivers safe
  • Feb. 28, 2016

Source: The Tennessean by Jay and Gerri Gass

It has been almost two years since my wife and I answered the call no parent ever wants to receive.

Our daughter, Lara, a third-year law student at Washington and Lee, was traveling to her externship with a federal court judge when the Saturn Ion she was driving slammed into the back of a tractor trailer truck. Unbeknownst to her, Lara’s Saturn had a critical safety defect that caused her driver side airbag to fail to deploy. It took law enforcement officers over eight hours to notify us about the crash because her car had been so badly destroyed in a fire that started immediately upon impact.

Lara did not survive the crash.

A life so full of hope and promise was taken because GM executives were focused more on profits than safety. GM’s “incompetence and neglect” as stated by CEO Mary Barra didn’t provided families like ours sufficient warning about the problems GM was having with their vehicles.

Three days prior to Lara’s death, I received a letter in the mail notifying us about a recall – but the notification indicated that the necessary parts to fix her Saturn weren’t available – leaving us without a solid solution. Had GM taken appropriate action in 2001 when it first discovered its fatal design flaws, Lara and 123 other deceased victims might still be alive today

Jay, Laura and Gerri Gass at Laura's graduation.
(Photo: Submitted)

 

Since her death, our family has been devoted to keeping Lara’s legacy alive via the creation of the LiveLikeLara Foundation. Separate from the Foundation, we have also been advocating for important public policy changes to add greater accountability to the auto industry.

It is our hope, that through our efforts, we might prevent other vehicle tragedies like Lara’s from happening. With the public and legislature’s help, our goal to protect more Tennessee drivers could soon become a reality.

We have been working with state Senator Mark Green and state Representative Curtis Johnson to introduce Lara’s Law (SB 1489), a bill intended to ensure that a used vehicle with an open recall on that vehicle be fixed prior to it being sold, rented and/or leased.

Right now, a potential buyer could walk into any used car dealership in the state and purchase a vehicle with an active safety recall notice without even knowing it because dealership personnel are not required to inform the buyer about open safety recalls. That’s a significant flaw in the used car buying process here in Tennessee and across the country.

CARFAX data suggests that there are more than 47 million cars nationwide with an unfixed recall. Many of these cars are sitting on used car lots - posing a significant safety risk to the buyer, as well as the general public since many of these cars end up on our roads.

Lawmakers in Nashville have a responsibility to address this critical safety problem and Lara’s Law as we originally drafted it will do just that. Lawmakers have failed to provide consumers the safety protections they need by siding with the auto industry time and time again. It is time for our local elected leaders to take a stand next with consumers to help us level the playing field!

The bill in its current form needs amending to accomplish what our family originally intended it to do by having all used cars repaired prior to selling that vehicle. The problem we face now is time.

The Tennessee legislature is set to adjourn in early spring, which means we are working under a short timeframe to amend the bill in the Senate Transportation Committee and bring it to the floors of the House and Senate for consideration.

We need the public’s help to encourage the legislature to pass Lara’s Law this year, and are asking people to call or write their state Senator and Representative to let them know recalls must be fixed on all used vehicles before they can be sold. There are too many “law violations” and “cover-ups” in the auto industry and consumers simply cannot depend on manufacturers like GM, Toyota, Volkswagen, Takata and others to do what is right.

Our family thinks about Lara and the precious time we lost with her every day. We imagine all the tremendous contributions she would be making in this world if she was still alive. Lara held great compassion for people unlike anyone else we’ve ever met and we know the work we, her family, are doing to make Lara’s Law a reality is exactly what she would want us to do to honor her memory.

Jay and Gerri Gass are Lara’s parents and they live in the Nashville suburb of Adams, TN. For more information about Lara visit www.livelikelara.org . Jay and Gerri are also members of the GM Recall Survivors Group. For additional information about this organization visit http://www.gmrecallsurvivors.com