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From Products Liability Law Daily, February 28, 2014

Senator urges earlier reporting of defects to prevent fatalities and injuries

By Joe Bichl

Reacting to the recent news that General Motors has expanded its recall of certain 2003-2007 model year vehicles to more than 1.3 million due to an ignition switch defect that has reportedly killed 13 people, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) called on the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require motor vehicle manufacturers to provide detailed information to the agency when they first become aware of incidents involving fatalities (Sen. Edward J. Markey News Release, February 26, 2014).

In a letter to NHTSA’s Acting Administrator David Friedman, Markey asked NHTSA to use its authority to require companies to submit accident reports and other documents to NHTSA’s public early warming reporting database when they become aware of fatalities involving their vehicles.

“The current Early Warning Reporting system is too little, too late,” Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said. “We need to overhaul the Early Warning Reporting system so that NHTSA is not looking at auto defects through a rearview mirror.” According to Markey, such a reporting requirement could have enabled earlier identification of the GM Chevrolet Cobalt ignition switch defect that has reportedly caused 13 deaths and at least 17 injuries, some of which involved the failure of airbags to deploy because the engine had switched off at the time of the impact.

“Making this information available could assist NHTSA, independent automobile safety experts and the public in the earlier identification of defects that could cause fatalities,” Markey wrote.

GM aware of safety problem. GM reportedly knew about the safety problem for almost a decade, Markey said in his letter. “Press accounts have reported that General Motors was aware in 2005 or earlier that the ignition switches in the 1,367,146 vehicles it recalled earlier this month could inadvertently turn off and disable the air bags.” Indeed, Markey indicated, a CBS News investigation revealed that GM knew about fatal accidents in Maryland and Wisconsin in 2005 and 2006 that were attributable to the safety problem and notified dealers, but did not execute a voluntary recall of the vehicles.

Markey also requested GM’s documents to NHTSA that discussed the fatal accidents in Maryland and Wisconsin, and other documents related to how NHTSA officials evaluated this defect when it became aware of it.

Vehicles involved in recall. In addition to 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s and Pontiac Pursuits sold in Canada only, GM separately recalled 2003-2007 Saturn Ions, 2006-2007 Chevrolet HHRs, 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstices, and 2007 Saturn Sky models. With this expansion, the number of the recalled vehicles in the United States now stands at 1,367,146.

GM announced the recall (14V047) to correct a condition with the ignition switch that may allow the key to unintentionally move or switch to the “accessory” or “off” position, turning off the engine and most of the electrical components on the vehicle. According to a GM news release, the expanded recall raised the number of reported incidents involving frontal crashes, in which the recall condition may have caused or contributed to the non-deployment of the frontal airbags, to 31.

During House Energy and Commerce Committee consideration of a 2010 automobile safety bill, a version of a then-Rep. Markey-authored amendment was included that would have made more information about fatalities public in the Early Warning Reporting database. The bill passed Committee but was not enacted.

Companies: General Motors

MainStory: TopStory NHTSANews ProductRecallsNews MotorVehiclesNews

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