Lawmaker outlines years of inaction by traffic safety watchdog that led to deaths due to faulty ignition switch
Washington (June 17, 2014) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today released a chronology of inaction by the federal government’s traffic safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), that reveals time and again it did nothing after receiving information about safety incidents involving engines that stalled on their own. A defective ignition switch in the recalled GM vehicles has been linked to the deaths of at least 13 people and injuries of dozens more. As part of his ongoing investigation of the GM recall, Senator Markey has compiled a timeline litanizing documents, warnings and analyses that NHTSA received as far back as 2004 related to safety issues affecting these vehicles, and yet chose not to issue any recalls.
Last month, Senators Markey and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced S. 2151, The Early Warning Reporting Act, legislation that would require more information to be reported to the public Early Warning Reporting database when auto manufacturers first become aware of incidents involving fatalities.
“At almost every juncture for the past decade, whenever NHTSA was made aware of possible safety issues with the GM vehicles, it chose to take no action,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “As damaging as the ‘GM nod’ that is said to have embodied the culture of ineptitude at the company, the ‘NHTSA shrug’, when confronted by evidence of this fatal safety defect, was also responsible for keeping these deadly vehicles on the road. It is time to pass legislation to ensure that information about possible deadly defects is made public so American families can be protected even if NHTSA abdicates its responsibility to public safety again in the future. My legislation with Senator Blumenthal will ensure the Early Warning Reporting system provides actual early warnings to ensure the public is informed and possible defects are fully investigated.”
• In 2004, NHTSA and GM had a meeting where NHTSA inexplicably agreed that reports of GM engines stalling on their own did not necessarily constitute a safety problem (page 72-73 of Valukas report).
In 2005, NHTSA received an investigative report it requested from one of its contractors (http://www.autosafety.org/sites/default/files/imce_staff_uploads/2005%20Cobalt%20MD.pdf) that described a 2005 fatal crash involving a Chevy Cobalt. That report found that the accident that killed the Maryland teenager involved an engine that was in accessory mode and airbags that did not deploy during the crash.
• In 2007, NHTSA received an investigative report it requested from one of its contractors (http://www.autosafety.org/sites/default/files/imce_staff_uploads/SCI%20Report%202005%20Cobalt%20WI.pdf) that described a 2006 fatal crash involving a GM Cobalt. That report found that the accident that killed the Wisconsin teenagers involved an engine that was in accessory mode and airbags that did not deploy during the crash.
• In 2007, NHTSA requested a Death Inquiry (DI) document from GM related to the death of two Wisconsin teenagers. That document, which was first made public by Senator Markey on May 7, included a report by the Wisconsin State Patrol Academy that highlighted the ignition switch defect as preventing the airbags from deploying. The report also references other reports of similar problems that the Wisconsin investigators uncovered and noted that these investigators had obtained the 2005 GM Technical Service Bulletin that described the ignition switch problem to GM dealers. This document was also highlighted numerous times in the Valukas report because it demonstrates that the cause of the engine stalling incidents was something that could have been, and was, identified by anyone who chose to do so.
• For ten years, NHTSA’s own Early Warning Reporting system, Fatality Analysis Reporting System and consumer complaint databases all documented higher instances of deaths of front seat occupants following accidents involving airbag non-deployment in the recalled vehicles than for other similar vehicles and high numbers of reports of ignition switches turning off by themselves in the recalled vehicles. Even though NHTSA occasionally requested more information from GM about some of these incidents, it never made these materials public and nor did it act aggressively to itself investigate the safety cause of these reports.