Motorists' Rights at Stake in Key Legislation to be Debated Next Week, Says Auto Club

(LOS ANGELES, June 21, 2006) — Strong opposition from auto manufacturers could derail an important consumer bill that would allow motorists to have access day or night to replacing lost or stolen high-tech electronic vehicle keys, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Senate Bill 1542, authored by State Sen. Carole Migden and sponsored by the Auto Club, was approved by the state Senate on May 17 and goes before the Assembly Transportation Committee on Monday, June 26. The bill requires the establishment of a safe, secure method for motorists to obtain replacements of high-tech vehicle keys, which can only be reproduced using special manufacturer codes.

“New computer technology to prevent auto theft is being added to more and more new vehicle keys each year,” said Alice Bisno, the Auto Club’s vice president for legislative affairs. “However, motorists who lose these new high-tech car keys often face delays, inconvenience and significantly more expense in replacing keys, because locksmiths and other car repair facilities cannot obtain the information they need from car manufacturers in order to reproduce electronic keys. Replacement keys from dealers can cost between $200 and $400, with some costing up to $1,000.”

Increasing numbers of motorists are unable to use a locksmith to duplicate their car key and must instead have the car towed to a dealer service center, which often is not open on weekends or at night. Many other drivers needing keys can still use a locksmith to get one, but must endure a long wait and/or high expense while the locksmith tears apart a steering column or car door to obtain information needed to replace the key – information that could easily be provided in a secure manner that would allow the locksmith to quickly and less expensively make a new key.

“We have tried to resolve this issue voluntarily with the car manufacturers, but they have dragged their feet for the past two years as we have pushed for them to adopt a convenient system that would allow motorists to quickly obtain replacement car keys,” Bisno said. “The Auto Club believes that when a motorist buys a vehicle, he or she also buys everything needed to operate it, including all the information necessary to make a replacement key.”

In addition to the Auto Club, supporters of SB 1542 include Consumers Union (the publisher of Consumer Reports), 33 chambers of commerce throughout Southern California, 25 local public safety agencies, and 17 Southland cities including the city of Los Angeles. Auto Club members have expressed their support by signing more than 7,000 letters advocating the bill.

“Greater vehicle security is an asset for consumers, but security improvement should not come at the expense of placing motorists in an unsafe situation or forcing them to pay unnecessarily high prices to obtain replacement keys,” Bisno said.