Eighth District Representative Mariko Yamada recently placed a new bill on the desk of the governor.
AB 647 aims to make information on the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System available to the public.
NMVTIS is an online-database that provides car history, such as auto titling, brand data and theft data. The information helps the state, law enforcement and consumers to confirm the car’s background, including previous damages caused by floods or fires, and help recover stolen cars as well.
The Department of Justice maintains the database, in accordance to the Anti-Car Theft Act of 1992.
California is currently the only state, out of the 36 states participating in NMVTIS, that restricts direct access to the information.
The restriction on this information puts the public in danger, said Yamada.
The database is available through a third party – R.L. Polk & Company – that charges $29.99 for the vehicle history though Polk’s branch company Carfax.
This information instead should be available through the Department of Motor Vehicles for a nominal fee of $2.50, said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.
Polk signed a contract with the DMV to sort through the massive amount of car information in the DMV computer system. The DMV claimed that it could not technologically be able to provide data directly, so it made the contract to help.
“The DMV needed the help of some entity that would make sense of our chaotic system caused by the DMV’s outmoded computers,” says Shahan.
Polk translated the data but stipulated in the contract that it would limit access to consumers.
AB 647, in turn, would lift this restriction and allow consumers to access NMVTIS directly. It would also prevent the DMV from entering contracts in the future that would limit access.
The bill received bipartisan support and passed unanimously on the Assembly floor Aug. 30. Now on the governor’s desk, Yamada fears the governor’s veto.
“The insurance companies have not opposed the bill openly,” says Shahan. “But the DMV has basically received the governor’s blessing.”
The DMV claims to oppose the bill because without a third party, it would not be able to manage the amount of information, according to a court document released earlier this year.
The DMV stated that it would have to find a new vendor to sort through the information. Finding a new vendor could take up to seven months and thousands of dollars.
The NMVTIS reported the database’s benefits as of its implementation on Jan. 30. Arizona experienced a 99 percent recovery rate of reported stolen cars, while the Virginia reported a 17 percent decrease in car theft, according to the NMVTIS website.
Furthermore, the information Carfax supplies is incomplete, since it lacks permission to report total information from several insurance companies, said Shahan.
NMVTIS could not be reached for comment by press time.
The insurance companies that are disclosing that data to Carfax include CNA, Liberty Mutual and Amica. Carfax also posts a disclaimer on the website that says it does not have complete history of every vehicle.
In a New York Times article, Larry Gamache, communications director of Carfax said, “We can’t even get our heads around how many incidents happen in the United States.”
The DOJ, on the other hand, requires that insurance companies update their NMVTIS information every 30 days. The department receives information from all 50 states, whether they are a part of the NMVTIS program or not. This is especially important in California, a state with a known history of being a dumping ground for cars.
It is difficult to tell whether the insurance companies report to Carfax in a timely manner, said Shahan.
“Timeliness is vital for car buyers to have access to the data before they are sold an unsafe vehicle,” she said.
As president of CARS, Shahan spearheaded numerous car safety actions, such as the requirement of the adjustable height of a seatbelt in cars. She hears many stories of individuals affected by the purchase of unsafe cars.
One occurrence involves the death of 18-year-old Bobby Ellsworth of Jamul, CA. He was in the passenger seat of a friend’s used car when it collided with another vehicle. The car’s airbags were unknowingly missing, resulting in Bobby’s death.
Shahan said these tales show what can happen when consumers buy a car unaware of possible defects.
“Had his friends known of the car’s history they never would have let him buy that car,” says Shahan.
ANA QUIROZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.