Who knew what and when should action have been taken? Government officials and safety experts are seeking answers regarding the ignition switch defects that plagued several cars made by General Motors over a period lasting for years. Millions of vehicles have now been recalled revealing the scope of the problem. At least 19 car accident fatalities have been linked to the faulty ignition switches, with more expected in the coming months and years.
While GM clearly failed to react to the defect properly, some attention has also gone to the actions of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some have suggested that the NHTSA is too deferential to automakers and has largely abandoned its role in holding them accountable for unsafe vehicles. The NHTSA claims it does not have the resources necessary to oversee such a large industry and that it is doing the best it can with its current budget.
The congressional report questioned several aspects of the NHTSA response. It claimed that the group was inefficient and failed to share data agency-wide. The report also questioned whether the agency had sufficient knowledge of modern day air bag technology assess the defects in a meaningful way. The ignition switches were defective because they could easily move from "run" to "accessory" position. At that point, the vehicle would lose power, cutting off the electronic steering and preventing air bags from deploying in the event of a collision.
A Wisconsin State Trooper linked a 2006 crash involving a Chevy Cobalt to an ignition switch being in the "accessory" position. Experts are wondering why the trooper's investigation of a single accident reached the proper conclusion years before the NHTSA figured it out. Despite the failure, the NHTSA has not made changes or moved to find the parties responsible for the failures. It is not clear what, if any, changes are going to be made to ensure that this does not happen again.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, "NHTSA Failed to Spot GM Ignition Switch Issue As Early As 2007," by Jeff Bennett and Siobhan Hughes, 16 September 2014