The attorneys generals of 17 states and the District of Columbia sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urging the agency to recall Kia and Hyundai vehicles prone to theft.
The letter comes after the companies said they would upgrade the software of nearly 8 million vehicles that lack an immobilizer, a security device that prevents the car from being started without the correct key present (preventing theft by hotwiring). The software upgrade includes lengthening of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute. It also will require the key to be in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on.
But the group of Democratic attorneys general say the software upgrade does not go far enough.
“This is an insufficient response to the problem and does not adequately remedy the safety concerns facing vehicle owners and the public,” the attorneys general wrote. “First, it will reportedly take months to release software updates for all models, and more troubling, an update is not even feasible for a significant percentage of the affected vehicles. Second, this voluntary service campaign lacks the notice and other regulatory requirements of a noncompliance or safety recall process and thus is unlikely to remedy as many vehicles as necessary in a timely manner.”
The AGs noted that Hyundai and Kia vehicles have been particularly prone to thefts, exacerbated by a 2021 social media challenge. Videos were distributed on TikTok showing how to steal the cars in less than 30 seconds.
The attorneys general said that these thefts have led to an increase in dangerous driving incidents.
“Thieves have driven these vehicles recklessly, speeding and performing wild stunts and causing numerous crashes, at least eight deaths, and significant injuries. Many of the victims have been minors,” the AGs wrote.
They also say that the thefts have tied up police resources.
“As long as these easily hotwired and stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles remain unfixed, local police departments and emergency services agencies will continue expending resources in response to the public safety threat,” the AGs wrote.
The thefts have also prompted calls for a class-action lawsuit against the companies.
Overall, the National Insurance Crime Bureau found car thefts rose 17% from 2019 to 2021. The group has encouraged social media platforms to remove videos showing how to steal such cars.
“Enabling criminals to share the tools and techniques of their trade through posting videos online adversely impacts all consumers,” Celeste Dodson, president of the International Association of Special Investigation Units, said in a press release. “When a vehicle is stolen, it is often not the end of the crime but the beginning.
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