A House committee has started an investigation into the response by General Motors (GM) and federal safety regulators to complaints about faulty ignition switches, which have been linked to 13 deaths, officials reported today.
An Energy and Commerce sub-committee will hold hearings, which will most likely include the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), although the date has not yet been set, committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker said.
General Motors reported they would recall more than 1.6 million vehicles last month due to a defective ignition switch that, if weighed down by a heavy key chain, could possibly turn off the car’s engine and electrical system, disabling the air bags.
General Motors has said that it was first alerted to the problem in 2004, and despite considering fixes twice, declined to do so. NHTSA received more than 260 complaints over the last 11 years regarding vehicles shutting off while being driven, according to a New York Times analysis, but never conducted a thorough investigation. The agency has repeatedly said that there was insufficient evidence to warrant one.
There have been 13 deaths linked to the faulty ignitions in General Motors’ vehicles. If regulators demanded answers a decade ago, many lives would have been spared. Why would General Motors ignore such a serious issue for 11 years?
The automaker is also under investigation by federal regulators over why it did not act more quickly to recall the cars, and is subject to potential fines if it is found to have violated government rules for safety recalls.
Mary T. Barra, GM’s chief executive, sent a letter to employees last week, ordering an “internal review to give us an unvarnished report on what happened.”
Why didn’t the company recall the 1.6 million cars until February, despite knowing for more than a decade about the faulty switches?
Although the internal investigation ordered by Ms. Barra has no set timetable, GM has until April 3 to answer 107 detailed questions, under oath, regarding why they didn’t fix the switch problems when they first became aware of the problem, and which individual employees were responsible for not taking action on what GM now admits was a deadly safety defect.
The exact number of lawsuits filed against GM to the present is unclear. GM has declined to reveal names of victims in the 31 accidents linked to the defect. Company officials said that GM is unaware of any fatal accident occurring after December 2009.
Since GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, technically known as the Motors Liquidation Company, many assets were left behind to prevent the new operating company from being stuck with expensive liabilities.
Many of the accident victims and families of the people who lost their lives will have to pursue their claims against Motors Liquidation Company and re-live their grief all over again.
The vehicles being recalled in the U.S. are Chevrolet Cobalts from the 2005-2007 model years; 2003-2007 Saturn Ions; 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHRs and Pontiac Solstices and 2007 Saturn Sky and Pontiac G5 models.
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