Airbags have saved many lives. (Photo by frimufilms via Canva)

The state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to protect consumers against unscrupulous auto repair shops that sell and install counterfeit airbags that fail to protect and save the lives of passengers in crashes.

Senate Bill 256 would make it illegal for someone to knowingly manufacture, sell or install counterfeit vehicle safety systems, including airbags that fail to meet federal safety standards. Federal officials have flagged the issue nationwide, as unsuspecting consumers don’t know they were scammed until it’s too late. 

“They are sold over the Internet usually and are installed in vehicles of unknowing Oregonians,” said Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, who presented the bill to the Senate. 

The bill passed with a bipartisan 25-4 vote and still faces a vote in the House.

The bill would make counterfeit airbags part of the state’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act, which protects consumers against deceptive practices and allows them to sue for damages. The bill also would allow the attorney general to file a civil action against the perpetrator to force them to stop.

Federal officials can take action in cases with counterfeit airbag equipment that involves trademark infringement, such as having a vehicle manufacturer’s logo on it. In 2019, Oregon federal prosecutors filed charges against a man who sold counterfeit airbags on Ebay, and he received six months in prison.

But not all counterfeit airbags meet the criteria that qualifies for federal prosecution.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, who was absent for the vote said the bill would protect consumers from dangerous situations. “Counterfeit and nonfunctional car safety components are a danger to us all,” Gorsek said. “By enforcing strict regulations and holding violators accountable, we are prioritizing the well-being of our communities and promoting responsible business practices.”

Airbags have saved more than 50,000 lives from 1987 to 2017 in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

One of the bill’s opponents, Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, said he voted against the bill because he’s worried that third-party auto parts for consumers would be squeezed out of the market.

Thirty-one states have passed similar legislation.

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Ben Botkin, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report.