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The NHTSA Once Missed a Massive GM Defect Because GM Promised There Was No Defect

In a perfect world, all companies tell the truth all the time. But, in reality, it merely isn’t true, and the NHTSA found that out the hard way when General Motors Company promised them there was no ignition defect. GM’s lie did one thing, though, and that was to bring an immense problem, with the NHTSA’s investigative process, to light.

There’s more to the story of GMs ignition switch and the airbags’ failure to deploy than what the NHTSA received. CarComplaints.com reported, in a 2015 article, the government’s agency admitted to letting consumers down with the whole ignition switch fiasco. Let’s look at what went on and what the NHTSA is doing about it. 

How the ignition fiasco began and the NHTSA’s role

 In 2007, reports came in that some airbags were failing to deploy in GM vehicles involved in accidents. The NHTSA chose not to investigate but didn’t offer any reasons as to why, at that time. 

GM even provided them with a State Trooper‘s report, who offered a possible theory of a link between the ignition switch and the airbag failure, potentially causing one driver’s death. Two agency workers saw that report but didn’t act on it or acknowledge the link. 

The Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General performed an investigation on NHTSA back in 2015. Upon assessment of the agency’s practices, a few shortcomings came to light. The safety department, known for fighting to keep vehicles safe for consumers, admitted that they hadn’t done an outstanding job. 

It seems that the NHTSA has let General Motors run their investigations with the ignition switch defect. Instead of questioning their results and verifying information, the NHTSA believed there was no defect because they were told there were none. It turns out that it wasn’t right, and the NHTSA had to answer for their lack of investigation into it. 

How the NHTSA failed drivers and passengers

The agency failed to stay on top of new technology. They admitted to not understanding how the airbag system worked in the GM vehicles. Therefore they didn’t know the conditions that should have triggered the airbag to deploy in the first place. 

They reportedly asked GM questions regarding the reports of the ignition switch defect but received no answers. Like the FAA, other investigators would push for the information, the NHTSA didn’t and just dropped it. 

The Inspector General also found that training was sorely lacking. New workers didn’t know what to look for when determining when to open investigations and when not to. Defects, like the ignition switch, easily passed through without getting caught. Unfortunately, lives were lost because of it. 

The agency claimed to be understaffed and underfunded to handle the workload thrown at them every day. That appears to be accurate, since, at the time, they only had 90 employees versus the 6,409 workers the FAA had. 

What changes did they make since then? 

Since the investigation, the safety agency decided to request more details of the incidents, including legal actions against the automaker. They said they would improve their knowledge of all technologies found on vehicles to know how a part works and when it should work. 

They planned to audit the companies and their suppliers and hold them accountable, if needed, to ensure resolutions to consumer vehicles are completed promptly. They also reported that they wanted to implement a team of experts on call 24/7 to investigate a serious claim immediately and not let the automakers call the shots.

It was disheartening to know that our government’s agency, tasked with keeping vehicles safe for consumers, handed over all investigative practices to the automakers. In the end, though, they took responsibility and made the necessary changes the Inspector General recommended, and now they put consumer’s vehicle safety first. 

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