OLYMPIA…A bill sponsored by Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, would make rental-car companies negligent and liable if they do not properly collect a driver’s identification at the time of rental and that driver is later at fault in an accident.
Senate Bill 5944, which is scheduled for a hearing at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 22 before the Senate Law and Justice Committee, was inspired by a local incident that paralyzed a three-tour combat veteran from Becker’s legislative district.
A Yelm resident, the constituent, 24, made it home safely from war, but was paralyzed in a car accident on Interstate 5 when a driver from a foreign country who had rented a car could not be located and held liable for the accident because the rental-car agent did not properly collect his identification.
The driver left the United States shortly after the 2015 accident, hasn’t returned and can’t be located in his native country. The rental agent couldn’t read the language on the identification, nor could she identify or compare his signature, but she rented the vehicle to him anyway – against agency policy.
Even a simple photocopy of the driver’s identification would have been helpful in locating the driver and holding him accountable for his actions.
“If a rental agency is going to give someone a 4,000-pound vehicle, they should make sure they know who they are renting it to and have the paper trail to back it up,” said Becker. “The man who paralyzed my constituent should have had to answer for his actions, but that didn’t happen because the rental agent didn’t follow policy.”
Instead, because of the agent’s oversight, the rental-car company was sued and lost, having to pay a large settlement.
“This bill doesn’t punish the rental-car companies,” explained Becker. “It actually protects them by toughening the requirements to collect proper ID. If they follow the law, they won’t be vulnerable to liability.”