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GM Recall: No Excuse for the Deadly Delay

Result of a serious automobile accident

Result of a serious automobile accident (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you think about it, driving to work or around town is one of the most dangerous things we do every day. While we can’t predict when and if we’ll be in an accident, many of us take some comfort in the fact that cars are safer now than they used to be. They have seat belts and airbags and a host of other innovations to increase our chances of surviving a crash. Imagine, however, that one of these features, the airbags, failed to deploy, possibly turning the serious accident our kids were in into a fatal one and that the automaker knew of the defect and did nothing about it for years as more and more lives were lost. That’s exactly what happened at General Motors, and many people-parents, officials, and safety advocates-are, understandably, outraged.

Last month, GM recalled 1.6 million vehicles due to a defect in the ignition switches that caused some of its cars that were manufactured between 2003 and 2007 to stall or fail to deploy their airbags. Despite documenting the problem as early as 2004, a year prior to the first of thirteen deaths in crashes in which the vehicle’s airbags failed to deploy, and communications with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the issue, GM stalled to recall its defective cars.

The only action the automaker took to inform drivers of and potentially protect them from the problem was to issue a technical service bulletin to dealers to advise owners to remove ‘unessential items from their key chains.’ Due to a defect in the ignition, the “key could be jostled out of the ‘run’ position if the driver’s leg hit it or if the key ring was too heavy, turning off the engine,” reported The New York Times.

Vehicles subject to the recall include the 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt, the 2007 Pontiac G5, the 2003-07 Saturn Ion, the 2006-07 Chevrolet HHR, the 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice, and the 2007 Saturn Sky.

After discovering safety issues with their vehicles, carmakers are legally obligated to notify the NHTSA of their plans for a recall within five business days or face a civil fine of up to $35 million. The fact that GM was aware of the defect, even facing “claims and lawsuits in which allegations were made regarding the ignition switch issue,” for so long and that NHTSA created a report about but failed to open a formal investigation into the problem suggests a major failure of the system meant to protect us. Hopefully, the Congressional investigation into both parties’ roles in the deadly delay will result in some clearly necessary reforms to how auto defects are handled.

What do you think of GM’s and the NHTSA’s actions? Should they have acted sooner?

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