Recalled GM cars linked to 303 airbag-related deaths

March 14, 2014 - 9:19:04 am

NEW YORK: US safety regulators have tracked 303 deaths after airbags failed to properly deploy in vehicles recently recalled by General Motors, a consumer watchdog group said Thursday.

GM is currently at the center of multiple investigations by US authorities because it was too slow to react to a defective ignition switch it linked to 31 accidents and 12 deaths in its 2005-7 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2003-7 Saturn Ion models.

The problem was detected as early as 2001, but GM waited until last month to recall 1.62 million vehicles in two stages in North America.

And two years later a service technician experienced the same problem that hundreds of drivers later experienced, a stall while driving related to a heavy keyring moving the ignition position.

That raised questions about why it took the US auto giant until last month to issue a recall and why the NHTSA did not act, despite being aware of complaints that the ignition would turn off while the car was in motion.

This shutdown would also turn off a car's electrical systems, preventing airbags from deploying in the case of an accident.

The Center for Auto Safety commissioned a review by the Friedman Research Corporation into GM air bag failures from 2003 to 2012.

CAS criticized a government watchdog for failing to detect the air bag failures and ignition switch defect.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration "claims it did not do an investigation because it did not see a defect trend," the center's executive director Clarence Ditlow wrote in a letter to the agency. 

"In some instances, single complaints can trigger a recall."

GM stressed that the NHTSA only tracks raw data on deadly accidents.

"Without rigorous analysis, it is pure speculation to attempt to draw any meaningful conclusions," GM added.

The company said its probe into the massive recall and the impact of the defective switch is "ongoing."

GM faces a $35 million fine for the defective ignition switch, an amount that pales in comparison to its annual revenue of $155 billion.

Two committees in the US Congress have said they will launch probes into the issue, and media reports say the Department of Justice is also now investigating.

The problems are especially troublesome because they could ruin the company's reputation, painstakingly rebuilt after its 2009 bankruptcy. (AFP)

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