Last month, General Motors (GM) recalled 1.62 million vehicles globally over faulty ignition switches causing engines to shut off and disabling airbags. The defect led to 31 crashes and 13 deaths.
GM apparently was aware of the defect as far back as 2004, but did not issue a recall until 2014, according to a USA Today report. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (Republican-Michigan) says that the Committee plans on holding a hearing on the matter.
Knowledge that the auto maker was aware of the problem for years has brought back the trauma and increased the grief for the families of those who died.
For example, in just one of the cases, 18-year-old, Natasha Weigel, died when a 2005 Chevy Cobalt—among the recalled models—lost power abruptly and crashed into trees on a Wisconsin road in October 2006, according to USA Today. Natasha’s friend, Amy Rademaker, 15, was a passenger in the car. Amy died less than five hours after the crash and Natasha died after being in a coma for 11 days. Megan Phillips, then 17, was the driver. She survived with significant injuries, including a fractured right arm and lacerated liver and spleen, wrote USA Today.
A crash-investigation team that was commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requested details which indicate that, at 7:55 p.m., the car swerved off the road doing 71 miles per hour (mph), vaulted a driveway, flew 59 feet before it hit a utility box and slammed into a copse of trees at about 55 mph, USA Today reported. According to the car’s data recorder, the ignition switch was not in the “run” position, but was in the “accessory” position, investigators reported in 2007. The front airbags never deployed. Also at that time, a number of ignition switch complaints were included in the NHTSA’s database.
Last week, federal safety officials demanded detailed information from GM concerning why it took so long to initiate the recall. Safety official orders include 107 questions that the NHTSA wants to have answered under oath by April 3rd. One of the first questions involves why GM did not correct the switch problem when the problem was first discovered, according to USA Today.
In a rare move, GM CEO, May Barra, indicated that she is personally handling the recall and advised staff by letter that GM is conducting an “internal review to give us an unvarnished report on what happened.” Alan Adler, a GM spokesman, told USA Today that GM did not have a “robust enough investigation” into the ignition defect prior to the recall and that GM is not sure how or if crash victims and their families will be compensated. “We are very sorry,” Adler says. “We are doing everything we can to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
A The New York Times investigation revealed that an analysis of the 260 consumer complaints made to the NHTSA indicated that, since February 2003, the agency received about two complaints each month over potentially dangerous vehicle shutdowns, but responded that there was not enough evidence to conduct a safety investigation. The last recorded complaint was filed about one week ago.
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