GM and NHTSA Pressed for Not Taking Action Sooner on GM Recall Linked to 303 Deaths

Tad Thomas, Esq.

A new review of federal crash data by the Friedman Research Corporation has linked General Motors (GM) to 303 deaths caused by faulty airbags from 2003 to 2012. The company, which analyzes vehicle safety data, is also pressing regulators for failing to detect the issue over the past decade.

Friedman Research Corporation analyzed cases in which the airbags did not deploy, but not the causes of the accidents. The study was commissioned by a private watchdog group in Washington, the Center for Auto Safety. In a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the group highlighted that the 303 victims died in the front seat of nonrear-impact accidents–nearly a third of the total 1,148 fatalities in Saturn Ions and Chevrolet Cobalts.

Recently, GM announced that it was recalling 1.6 million cars due to a defective ignition switch that disconnects the engine from electric power, which causes sudden stops and airbag failure. The defect can be sparked by as little as a heavy key chain. Since we last reported,
GM has more than doubled its recall with four more models 2003-7 Saturn Ion; the 2006-7 Chevrolet HHR and Pontiac Solstice; and the 2007 Saturn Sky. GM also now acknowledges 12 deaths linked to the ignition switch failure.

The disparity in claims over the number of deaths, from 12 to 303, stems from a dispute over data analysis. GM contends that it is “pure speculation” to definitively link the 303 deaths to the ignition switch. The NHTSA also defends that it did not receive sufficient data to detect a trend or demand a recall.

On the other side, families and their attorneys contend that police reports are not necessarily reliable evidence to clear car defect as an accident cause. In Alabama, a fatal case that was once closed as “driver distraction” has since been reopened and classified as “mechanical failure.” A growing concern is that it does not matter if the driver was drunk or distracted–an airbag should always deploy. Meanwhile, other evidence sheds light onto efforts made in the last decade to fix the faulty vehicles. GM employees are said to have proposed fixes not once, but twice. This week, three investigations, one by Department of Justice and two by Congress, will look into the the ordeal.

If you drive one of the recalled vehicles, do not take the risk of driving them. Have your car examined. If you believe that you or a loved one has been harm by a fault in your vehicle, contact an attorney. You may be able to explore legal options.

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