Since February, General Motors (GM) has recalled nearly 3 million vehicles for faulty ignition switches — a problem that has reportedly led to at least 13 deaths. With news reports indicating that GM knew about the problem even before these deaths and failed to act, the car company is now facing pressure to right its wrongs and prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Recently, GM announced that it would more than double its number of safety inspectors. The Associated Press reports that GM is adding 35 safety inspectors, which will bring its total number to 55. The company has also divided the global vehicle engineering organization into two sections. Product development chief Mark Reuss told the AP that this is all part of an effort to ensure that problems are identified and handled more quickly.
However, for the many consumers affected by this massive recall, the changes may be coming too late.
Reports: GM Knew About Safety Problems
The historic GM recall began in February. However, several news reports indicate that GM knew there was a problem long before. According to these reports:
Sometime in 2001-2002, the first problem was reported in the pre-production notes of the 2002 Saturn Ion. In 2005, the auto-maker found the same problem in the Chevy Cobalt and opened engineering inquiries but did not take action.
Test drivers reported the problems to GM in 2006. Mixing older parts with new ones, GM made some repairs that year but then put these DIY parts under the same item number as the old ones, adding confusion to the existing problem.
In 2007, the problem came to the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when it was mentioned in a crash report. The agency proposed opening an investigation but opted not to do so. The NHTSA reconsidered its decision in 2010 after receiving more reports of related accidents and deaths. Again, the NHTSA did not choose to open an investigation.
In 2012 and 2013, GM’s own internal testing verified that there was a significant problem with the switches, which led to this year’s recalls.
Lives Put At Risk By Faulty GM Ignition Switches
The problem with the faulty GM ignition switches was that they would shut off a car without notice. Drivers and passengers could be left traveling down a road without power steering and airbags. Depending on where you were driving when you lost power, the experience could be both frightening and potentially fatal.
Even though GM admits that at least 13 people have died in connection with the ignition switch problems, there could potentially be many more related fatalities.
Currently, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the course of events to determine if any crimes were committed. Civil lawsuits through wrongful death claims are inevitable, as family members who have lost loved ones seek compensation from the company.
Also, Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation are investigating why the NHTSA failed to act. For instance, the NHTSA had received at least six complaints by 2007 in regards to the Chevrolet Cobalt shutting off without explanation, but the agency failed to open an official investigation.
GM may add more safety inspectors, but it cannot undo mistakes that have ultimately cost more than a dozen lives.