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Maryland drivers to receive notice of open recalls when they register vehicles

Maryland drivers will soon receive notice of open recalls on their vehicles when it is time to renew their registrations under a program announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

State and federal transportation officials described the two-year pilot program as a first-in-the-nation effort to ensure that owners are aware of problems such as the Takata airbag recall, which has affected tens of millions of vehicles nationwide.

Beginning next year, when Maryland car owners and lessees receive registration renewal documents from the Motor Vehicle Administration, they will also receive information about recalls specific to their car.

That information will also be sent to car owners who receive email reminders about their registration deadline.

About 30 percent of recalled vehicles are not repaired, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency, part of the federal transportation department, announced a $222,300 grant to Maryland on Friday to set up the program.

Christine Nizer, administrator of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, said state officials had been monitoring the grant program for years.

Congress approved legislation in 2015 to provide funding for up to six states to launch the initiative. Maryland was the only state that wound up applying.

“Safety is important to us,” Nizer said. “There are … behavioral issues — what people can do to be safe behind the wheel — but we also want to look at making sure that the vehicle they’re getting into is safe as well.”

Just over 5 million vehicles are registered in Maryland. Nizer said the federal money will cover the entire cost of the program.

Advocates say recalls are neglected for several reasons, including that some drivers are never notified. Notifications that come in the mail might be tossed out. The manufacturer might not have an owner’s current contact information.

“A lot of times the problem with the safety recall notices is that people think it’s junk mail,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of the Sacramento-based Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. “This will help raise awareness.”

The Takata airbag recall, which covers as many as one-third of vehicles nationwide, and the recall prompted by General Motors’ faulty ignition switches, were roughly a year old when Congress approved funding for the initiative in a five-year, $305 billion transportation bill.

The legislation also requires large car rental companies to address recalls, and increases penalties for safety violations.

As part of the program, Maryland will provide owners and lessees with a brief description of the recall, the federal agency said. State officials stressed the information will be provided as a public service — an open recall will not prevent a driver from registering a vehicle.

State officials said they would partner with Atlanta-based Cox Automotive Inc. to obtain the recall information. Nizer said the database the firm uses includes information about whether a car has already been fixed, so owners should not receive notice if they’ve already addressed the problem.

“This first-in-the-nation grant will serve as an example to the rest of the country as we continue to work across government to reach consumers in new and creative ways with potentially life-saving information about their vehicles,” Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement.

Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement that the program would “protect our citizens and make our roadways safer.”

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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