The Department of Justice and committees in the U.S. House and Senate are now investigating whether GM delayed recalling Chevrolet Cobalts and other cars with faulty ignition switches, as well as whether the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should have demanded the automaker act sooner.
According to depositions filed in a civil lawsuit against GM over the death of a 29-year-old pediatric nurse in the crash of her Chevrolet Cobalt, the company knew a decade before it issued a recall that its Cobalt had an ignition switch problem that could shut off the engine while driving. This would cut off the driver’s power steering and brakes, in addition to safety systems, such as airbags.
GM acknowledged the problem in a 2005 technical service bulletin, a routine notice from automakers to dealers about possible problems and fixes. The bulletin did not tell dealers to put new key covers on the keys of the new Cobalts before they were sold or to alert buyers of the possibility that the key might move out of place and the engine might stall.
According to a report commissioned by The Center for Auto Safety, a private watchdog group in Washington, as many as 303 deaths could have been caused by the defect that prompted GM to recall 1.6 million cars. According to the report, an examination of NHTSA’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) found 303 deaths of front seat occupants in the recalled 2005-07 Cobalts and the 2003-07 Ions where the airbags failed to deploy in non-rear impact crashes.
A letter from the Center for Auto Safety to the NHTSA stated that the FARS data clearly showed front seat occupants were being killed in crashes where the airbags did not deploy as soon as the recalled cars hit the road. The letter also stated that the NHTSA could and should have initiated a defect investigation to determine why airbags were not deploying in Cobalts and Ions in increasing numbers.
GM has acknowledged only 12 deaths linked to faulty ignition switches that can disable the cars’ safety systems.
A New York Times analysis of consumer complaints submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that since February 2003 it received an average of two complaints a month about potentially dangerous shutdowns, but it repeatedly responded that there was not enough evidence of a problem to warrant a safety investigation.
According to The New York Times, many of the complaints detailed frightening scenes in which moving cars suddenly stalled at high speeds, on highways, in the middle of city traffic, and while crossing railroad tracks. A number of the complaints warned of catastrophic consequences if something was not done.
GM has recalled six car models because of defective ignition switches that, if bumped or weighed down by a heavy key chain, can shut off engines and power systems, disabling the air bags. On Feb. 13, it recalled 778,000 cars, including the 2005-7 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2007 Pontiac G5. Twelve days later, the company more than doubled the recall, with four more models — the 2003-7 Saturn Ion; the 2006-7 Chevrolet HHR and Pontiac Solstice; and the 2007 Saturn Sky. All of those models used the same ignition switch, and none are in production anymore.
If you have been injured in an accident involving a Chevy Cobalt, please call Marion Munley at Munley Law at 855-866.5529.