The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun two investigations into Chrysler minivans and SUVs in the widening inquiry into air bag and ignition switch problems.
NHTSA is gathering information from automakers and parts suppliers in the wake of General Motors’ recall of 2.6 million small cars with faulty ignition switches, the Associated Press (AP) reports. The switches can unexpectedly slip out of the “run” position, causing the engine to stall, disabling the air bags and power steering. Some drivers have lost control of the vehicles. GM has acknowledged that the defective switches are linked to least 54 crashes and 13 deaths, but some lawmakers and safety investigators fear the death toll could be much higher.
NHTSA has asked the automakers how long air bags will still deploy after the ignition moves out of “run.” They said that in many instances the air bags would be disabled in less than a second. NHTSA’s top official admitted at a Congressional hearing that the agency doesn’t fully understand exactly when air bags will deploy when the ignition is switched off, according to the AP.
On Wednesday, NHTSA posted information about 700,000 Dodge Journey SUVs, Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans from 2008 to 2010 and whether the ignition can fall out of the run position under “harsh roadway conditions,” according to the AP. Chrysler recalled 2010 models but not earlier model years. NHTSA said 23 drivers complained about the switches but none reported crashes or injuries.
NHTSA’s second investigation covers more than half a million (2006-2007) Jeep Commander SUVs and (2005-2006) Jeep Grand Cherokees. Thirty-two complaints reported that when the driver’s knee jostled the key ring, the ignition switch moved out of the run position and the engine stalled.
GM has admitted knowing about the ignition switch problem for more than a decade, but it didn’t recall the affected cars until this year. NHTSA has also been faulted for missing the signs of a serious safety problem.