Autos

Watchdog: 13 Deaths? GM’s Recall Issue Has Caused Over 300

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Image is unrelated to General Motors and its recall.

By General Motors’ (NYSE:GM) count, approximately thirteen people have died as a result of the ignition issues behind its latest 1.6 million vehicle recall. While that’s still thirteen deaths too many, it’s well below the 303 deaths that have been recorded by U.S. safety regulators, all stemming from a failure of airbag deployment, which can occur when the car shuts down while at speed.

Earlier this week, it was reported that GM had actually known about the problem since 2001, despite stating 2004 previously. Nonetheless, no actions appear to have been taken until January, in a recall that was nearly doubled in size last month. General Motors has been pressured to provide a $1 billion fund with which to compensate families and victims, though some would-be plaintiffs are barred from suing under the terms of GM’s emergence from bankruptcy in 2009 (the company today is technically a different company than it was pre-bailout), Reuters reports.

The Center for Auto Safety, which produced the figure, said it referenced crash and fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS). In response, GM said late on Thursday that the new report was based on “raw data” and “without rigorous analysis, it is pure speculation to attempt to draw any meaningful conclusions,” per Reuters.

“NHTSA could and should have initiated a defect investigation to determine why airbags were not deploying in Cobalts and Ions in increasing numbers,” said Clarence Ditlow, the executive director for the Center.

Ditlow added that the center’s study, which was conducted by Friedman Research Corp., also cross-referenced fatality data supplied by General Motors to the NHTSA’s Early Warning Reporting (EWR). “Combining EWR and FARS data as (the center) did should have raised a red flag to NHTSA,” Ditlow said in a letter dated Thursday.

GM is under intense scrutiny for the delay in responding to the issue, and even the NHTSA is getting heat for not being more on top of the issue, which has been simmering below the radar for thirteen years. After conducting a review of data mined from the EWR filings, Reuters found General Motors reports of three fatal crashes involving the Saturn Ion in 2003 and 2004, well before the first confirmed fatality in a Chevrolet Cobalt. Two of the three Ion crashes involved non-deployment of airbags, according to the center’s analysis of the data, Reuters reports. GM said that its own investigation is “ongoing.”