GM recently recalled more than 1.6 million cars around the world, including
Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions, because of defective ignition switches
that cause them to shut off unexpectedly, often in dangerous situations.
When a car loses power, as many of these GM cars did, it loses braking
and power steering capability. Coupled with the loss of airbags, the problems
are potentially deadly. GM acknowledged that the ignition switch defect
was linked to 13 deaths.
The federal government started receiving complaints about defective General
Motors cars in 2003. But it was slow to act, even as people were dying
in crashes, sometimes when their cars stalled in the middle of the freeway.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration dismissed some 260 complaints,
according to the
New York Times, and potentially failed to protect innocent people who would die because
of safety problems.
NYT timeline isolates fatal accidents due to defect
In July 2005, a teenager was killed in a Maryland accident after her airbag
failed to deploy. An NHTSA investigator noted in a report that the ignition
was in the "accessory" position when the accident occurred.
In other words, the car had shut off.
In October 2006, two teens in Wisconsin were killed in a Cobalt. An NHTSA
contracted investigator noted the ignition was not "on" at the
time of the crash and noted six similar cases he found within the NHTSA database.
In January 2010, 21-year-old Kelly Ruddy died when she was ejected from
her 2005 Cobalt as it lost power and the airbags failed. Despite numerous
complaints to the NHTSA, her mother says she never received a satisfactory response.
Furthermore, a study commissioned by the
Center for Auto Safety suggests the problem is much bigger than GM or the NHTSA admitted-alleging
some 303 related deaths.
NHTSA said it didn't have enough evidence to warrant safety investigation
Starting in 2003, the NHTSA received an average of two complaints per month
on GM cars shutting off unexpectedly. The agency says there wasn't
enough evidence of a widespread problem, though it has now identified
13 deaths and several more accidents connected to the problem.
This isn't the first time the agency has faced criticism for acting
too slowly in the face of complaints. In the late 1990s, it failed to
identify Firestone tire defects blamed in hundreds of deaths involving
rollovers of Ford Explorers.
Congress reacted by passing a law in 2000 that requires automakers to submit
any claims they receive on defects involving injuries and accidents to
the feds, rather than having the NHTSA rely solely on consumer reporting.
These reports from GM detail as many as 78 deaths and 1,581 injuries involving
the now-recalled vehicles, far more than the 13 the NHTSA admits.
A spokesman for the NHTSA defends the agency, saying investigations over
the last seven years led to 929 different recalls of more than 55 different
If you or a loved one is involved in a wreck potentially caused by an automotive
defect, call an experienced
car-crash attorney who can help you obtain compensation for injuries, anguish or