General Motors (GM) recalled 1.62 million vehicles worldwide last month over issues with faulty ignition switches. The alleged defect caused engines to abruptly shut off and disabled airbags, which led to 31 crashes and 13 deaths.
GM was aware of the defect as far back as 2004, but did not implement a recall for 10 years, according to a USA Today report. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (Republican-Michigan) says that the Committee will be holding a hearing on the matter. Meanwhile, knowing that GM was aware of the issue as far back as a decade ago has brought back the trauma and added to the grief for the families of those who died.
In just one of the cases, 18-year-old, Natasha Weigel died when she was a passenger in a 2005 Chevy Cobalt—among the recalled models—that suddenly lost power and crashed into trees on a Wisconsin road in October 2006, according to USA Today. Natasha’s friend, Amy Rademaker, 15, was also a passenger in the car. Amy died a little less than five hours after the crash; Natasha died following an 11-day coma. Megan Phillips, then 17, was the driver, and she survived with significant injuries, including a fractured right arm and lacerated liver and spleen, wrote USA Today.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) put a crash investigation team together that requested details about the crash. The investigation indicated that, at 7:55 p.m., the car swerved off the road doing 71 miles per hour (mph). The car then vaulted a driveway, flew 59 feet, hit a utility box, and slammed into a copse of trees at about 55 mph, USA Today reported. The car’s data recorder revealed that the ignition switch was not in the “run” position, but was in the “accessory” position, according to the investigators’ 2007 report; the front airbags never deployed. At that time, a number of ignition switch complaints were included in the NHTSA’s database.
Last week, federal safety officials requested detailed information from GM over why it took so long for the car maker to initiate the recall. Safety official orders included 107 questions that the NHTSA wants answered—under oath—by April 3rd. One of the first questions involves why GM never corrected the switch problem when first discovered, USA Today reported.
GM CEO, May Barra, announced that she is personally handling the recall and sent a letter to GM staff advising them that GM is conducting an “internal review to give us an unvarnished report on what happened.” GM spokesman Alan Adler told USA Today that GM did not have a “robust enough investigation” into the ignition defect prior to the recall and that the auto maker 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 a review of the 260 consumer complaints made to the NHTSA indicated that, since February 2003, the agency received about two complaints monthly over possibly 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.