Last week, several media outlets, including The New York Times, reported 303 fatalities could be linked to airbag non-deployments in some of the models that fall under General Motors’ ignition switch recall. However, the U.S. Government database on which the study is based overstates the correlation between the airbag deaths and the number of people killed in recalled GM cars, and should not be associated with the recall, said a statement issued by GM’s Fastlane blog on Saturday.
The study in question is from the Center for Automotive Safety that used information from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System, or FARS. The study claimed 303 deaths were caused when airbags failed to deploy in 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2003-07 Saturn Ions over a ten-year period. But the reports failed to take into consideration the number of accidents where the airbag was not supposed to deploy.
The crux of the matter is that airbags are engineered to not deploy, in some circumstances. Furthermore, GM said that even if the 303 figure was accurate, the airbags may have performed exactly as intended by not deploying. In addition, the figure itself might be wrong, as The Detroit News reports that FARS data originates from police crash reports recorded within 30 days of the crash, which are not always reliable.
“The bottom line is at least for the years we looked at it, the coding of airbag deployments isn’t always accurate,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Senior Vice President for Research, Anne McCaratt, told The Detroit News. “It’s frustrating because it seems like police reports would be able to code accurately whether an airbag deploys or not. It’s not like trying to figure out if the driver fell asleep.”
In short, no one knows if the 303 deaths are linked to the faulty ignition switches by looking at raw data alone. GM says the research and investigation of the ignition switch recall is ongoing and claims to have identified 12 deaths which can be directly linked to the faulty ignition switches. In the meantime, the automaker is offering courtesy vehicles to the owners of affected models, will cover the towing costs for their cars, and is offering $500 in rebates on new models.