In 2006, a police investigator in Wisconsin was looking for the cause of an accident that claimed the lives of two teenagers. With the limited resources of a single office looking into a solitary crash, that investigator was able to conclude that a defective ignition switch caused the car to lose power, veer off the road and collide with a guardrail. Because the defect turned the car’s power off, the air bags did not inflate. This was not the first time the defect had claimed a life.
In 2014, General Motors recalled millions of vehicles for potentially containing defective ignition switches. The recalls came 11 years after complaints led to an investigation into the problem. The extraordinary delay has raised concerns about the role of auto companies and safety regulators in protecting consumers from deadly auto defects.
GM is now funding a program to compensate certain victims of the faulty ignition switches. Among the claims approved under the program are 27 traffic fatalities. That is likely a small percentage of the total deaths caused by the defective vehicles. Many of the accident victims are unlikely to ever receive compensation for what they suffered.
Given the resources of GM and of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there is no excuse for a potentially lethal defect to endanger the public for more than a decade. While this is not the first defect to claim lives over such a long period of time, it will hopefully be the last. Pressure is mounting to see that something is done about the delays and the weak response of safety regulators to GM’s deadly vehicles.
Source: Business Insurance, “Deaths linked to GM ignition-switch defect rise to 27,” 13 October 2014