Environmental Amendment to hit California Car Rental Industry

California state capitol

Companies might get more clarity on warning consumers about toxins

It’s not enough that the rental car industry has to grapple with ride-sharing entries into the marketplace or wrapping their heads around technology and connectivity designed to improve efficiencies. In particular, businesses in California have been trying to come to grips with how to abide by a state law that’s been on the books for 33 years.

More specifically, the statute, known as the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, makes it compulsory for companies to warn consumers about the presence of workplace toxins that might be harmful to consumers. For rental car companies, that not only includes their offices and garages, but the vehicular interiors of the very fleets that generate revenue for them. Given that automobiles have a variety of toxins, mostly under the hood and undercarriage, many car rentals have lobbied for clarity in guidelines as well as some provisions that would exempt them of any potential violations.

As first reported in Auto Rental News, many of those concerns are being addressed in an amendment called Proposition 65, which is still on the state legislature table. But if passed, it may allow not only more breathing room for car rental operators, but might also provide more breathing room in how to abide by the environmental protection law.

It’s called Proposition 65, which affects the use of toxins that may change some operational aspects of rental car companies in the Golden State. The California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act has been law since 1986, although proposed changes are still being bandied about in the state legislature.

The proposition primarily focuses on stopping chemicals from getting mixed with drinking water and proposes compulsory warning signage over specific chemicals above a concentration where the statute would be violated, often referred to as a “safe harbor” level. The problem is that the original law is out of date, having recognized only 26 toxins, a list that has since grown to nearly a thousand.

It also doesn’t help that the law’s enforcement body, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recognized more than 300 of those substances as being harmful, forcing a car rental company to solely take on the task of identifying and issuing warnings on those toxins. Miss any on that list of nearly a thousand, whether recognized by the state office or otherwise, and the company risks having to fork over $2,500 a day in fines if a customer reports that a toxin present in a business workspace isn’t listing on any warnings. That doesn’t include legal fees paid to the attorney of the plaintiff which can be just as brutal on a company’s earnings.

Previously, companies didn’t have to list those dangerous chemicals until March 8, when the state office came up with a proposal for rental vehicles to list safe harbor warnings concerning exposure to substances in company fleets offering two options:

  1. WARNING: Operating a motor vehicle can expose you to chemicals including engine exhaust, carbon monoxide, phthalates, and lead, which are known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. To minimize exposure, avoid breathing exhaust, do not idle the engine except as necessary, and assure adequate ventilation inside the car.

  2. WARNING: Operating, servicing, and maintaining a passenger vehicle or off-road vehicle can expose you to chemicals such as engine exhaust, carbon monoxide, phthalates, and lead, that which are known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. To minimize exposure, avoid breathing exhaust, do not idle the engine except as necessary, service your vehicle in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves or wash your hands frequently when servicing your vehicle.

Proposition 65 also indicated how these warnings were to be posted, from signs to printing on rental agreements as long as customer is aware of the conditions before getting into a rented vehicle. While the proposition could be adopted as part of the statute by the summer, provisions exist for additional amendments down the road, such as exposure to toxins in underground garages.

While car rental companies have been encouraged to follow the new rules once they become law, count on the industry to push for further clarity on future changes to help clear the air on how they can adjust.

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