Independent Shops Pushing Back as Safelite Pushes for Auto Glass Laws

 

Jim Sams, Claims Journal

Safelite AutoGlass has hired lobbyists at statehouses across the country as it seeks legislation that it says will protect consumer safety by ensuring that the sensors and cameras used for advanced driver assistance systems are properly recalibrated after replacement or repair.

The company’s efforts led to passage of new laws in Utah and Arizona. As its efforts moved east, however, Safelite butted heads with another group that is offering its own vision about how to safely make repairs: The Auto Glass Safety Council.

AGSC on March 11 sent out an alert to members warning that independent shops that subcontract calibration services could be concerned about bills introduced in state legislatures for Arizona, Maryland and Illinois that address “pricing, billing practices and the relationships of auto glass shops with insurers and claims administrators.” Safelite supported both measures.

Debra Levy, outgoing president and managing director for AGSC, said unlike Safelite, her organization does not propose legislation that addresses “business practices.”

“The purpose of our legislation is to protect consumers,” Levy said. “That’s it.”

Both AGSC and Safelite succeeded in passing legislation last year.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law House Bill 519, which requires repair shops to comply with standards developed by the AGSC and published by the American National Standards Institute when installing auto glass.

In Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox approved Senate Bill 78, a measure backed by Safelite requiring repair shops that work with ADAS-equipped vehicles to comply with the manufacturer’s specifications when recalibrating safety devices.

The bill goes much further. It also prohibits repair facilities from charging “more than a fair and competitive price for the local market area” and prohibits shops from telling consumers that a repair or replacement will be paid for entirely by the customer’s insurer at no cost to the consumer. Violators are subject to a $500 civil penalty.

Safelite works closely with insurers. The company operates a separate business called Safelite Fulfillment that handles first notices of loss for automobile insurance claimants who seek auto glass repair or replacement.

Being a part of the claims-management process gives Safelite a unique perspective, said government relations manager Scott Zajic.

“We’ve seen the abuses that occur,” he said. For example, repair shops will charge for recalibration services that were not actually performed.

Zajic said operators who field Safelite’s insurance calls don’t direct customers to specific repair facilities if they have their own preference. He acknowledged, however, that some customers do choose Safelite after they are educated about the importance of proper recalibration when windshields are repaired.

“We think consumer protection, related to ADAS, is the top priority for our organization,” he said.

Arizona became the second state to pass a Safelite-backed auto glass repair bill on April 14, when Gov. Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1410 into law. The measure has many of the same provisions of the Utah law, but lacks the language requiring “fair and competitive” prices. It does prohibit repair shops from telling consumers their insurer will pay for everything and requires that the customer be given notice if a recalibration was attempted but failed. Also, violators are subject to a $2,500 civil penalty, which Levy said is the highest penalty for a glass repair infraction she has seen in any state.

Safelite attempted to pass a similar bill in Maryland during the legislative session earlier this year. Levy spoke against the measure, Senate Bill 478, during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Feb. 9.

She said many of the provisions in the bill, such as a requirement that repair shops provide an estimate before performing any work, will unnecessarily add costs and degrade customer service.

“What does anyone giving you an estimate on car repair say before they provide it? ‘Bring the car in,’” she said. “It’s impractical to ask the glass shop to drive the vehicle to a calibrator or dealership with the broken windshield, then bring it back and inform the consumer of the cost.”

Patrick Heflin, a regional manager for Glass America, told committee members that Safelite’s bills will box small, independent shops out of the market.

“These government-dictated economic regulations favor insurers and glass companies with market power who are also serving as insurance claim adjusters over smaller regional and local independent shops.”

S. 478, introduced by Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, did not pass the Maryland legislature before the session ended, but may be revived next year. A similar measure was also introduced in Illinois but wasn’t voted on before the legislature adjourned.

Zajic said Safelite will continue to push for legislation to ensure safe auto glass repairs. Public records show that the company is well prepared. A scan of readily available public documents provides these examples:

  • In Washington state, Safelite paid a $60,000 fee to lobbyist Melissa M. Gombosky earlier this year.
  • In New Hampshire, the company has agreed to pay the Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell $35,150 for lobbying, according to a Jan. 26 report.
  • In Florida, the company paid between $10,000 and $20,000 to Capital City Consulting in 2021.
  • In Minnesota, Safelite has spent $25,000 annually on lobbyists in each of the three past years.

Levy said her organization may work with Safelite or against it, depending on exactly what is proposed.

“There are many places where we coalesce with them and there are areas where we disagree. It’s on a case-by-case basis,” she said

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