Not all vehicle recalls are alike. The ignition switch problems in several types of GM vehicle have now been tied to 13 deaths, including 12 in the United States. More than 2.5 million vehicles have been recalled, including Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 models, as well as a number of Saturn Ion, Pontiac Pursuit, Pontiac Solstice, Chevrolet HHR and Saturn Sky models manufactured between 2005 and 2011. The potential for deadly accidents has led lawmakers and representatives of injured drivers to push GM to take stronger action to protect the owners of these recalled vehicles.
The crashes are alleged to occur when the ignition switch changes from the "run" position to the "aux" position. When this happens, the engine disengages and the drivers lose the power assistance to the steering and brakes. The failure may also stop the front airbags from working in the event of a crash. The cars are not designed to be steered or stopped without the power assistance. If the ignition fails while the car is moving quickly in traffic or on a curve, it can be impossible for a driver to avoid a serious accident.
During a Senate subcommittee hearing, the CEO of General Motors claimed that the vehicles are completely safe if the ignition key has nothing hanging from it. She further stated that the company would not hesitate to ground the vehicles if there was "any risk." Whether or not a risk exists is still the matter of some debate, with evidence cited on both sides. What is clearly true is that it would be enormously expensive for GM to come up with the number of loaner vehicles and rentals necessary if all the owners of these recalled cars were forced to stop driving them at once. It may take months for all the recalled vehicles to be repaired.
General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have come under fire for the response to the reports of ignition switch failure. GM held meetings about the issue as early as 2005 and the NHTSA connected the first death to the issue in 2007. That the recall is still expanding here in 2014 may say a lot about how consumer safety is regarded by regulators and auto makers.
Source: USA Today, "Lawyer, senators try to 'ground' recalled GM cars," by James R. Healey and Yamiche Alcindor, 4 April 2014