According to an analysis performed by The New York Times, over 260 complaints, or about 2 per month, were filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) during the past 11 years related to GM vehicles suddenly shutting off while being driven. The report makes observers wonder why the agency didn’t pick up on a trend hidden within its own complaint files as it investigates the “timeliness” of GM’s 1.6 million-car recall related to the defective ignition switches.
This wouldn’t be the first time that the agency has been criticized for failing to recognize patters. Some might recall the infamous Ford Explorer-Firestone Tire tire fiasco brought the agency into the spotlight over a decade ago.
According to a report from USA Today, former NHTSA leader, Joan Claybrook, has asked the Department of Transportation to investigate why the agency didn’t demand a recall earlier. Now an activist, Claybrook said that the NHTSA “failed to carry out the law” by not requiring GM fix the problems earlier.
In its defense, the NHTSA stated that there wasn’t enough evidence to launch an investigation, as the 260 complaints make up only about 0.018 percent of all cars that are part of the recall.
“Regarding the recent recall of certain GM vehicles, the data available to NHTSA at the time did not contain sufficient evidence of a possible safety defect trend that would warrant the agency opening a formal investigation,” the agency said in an emailed statement to CBS MoneyWatch.
The agency’s methodology for determining the necessity of a safety investigation and possibility of a recall includes “a number of tools and techniques to gather and analyze data and look for trends”. Customer complaints are only a single source of that criteria. Other sources include early warning data, crash investigations, and industry-related websites, according to the agency.
The various developments following GM’s recall, including the investigation undertaken by the NHTSA to determine GM’s timeliness in issuing a recall, along with the subsequent investigation of the NHTSA itself to determine the reason it hadn’t taken action sooner, most definitely doesn’t serve as consolation for the families and friends of those involved in the 31 crashes and 13 deaths linked to the defect. And according to complaints listed on the NHTSA’s database, there may have been many other close calls, as well. Some examples:
“I’m just happy my family is alive,” one driver wrote about a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, after its engine suddenly shut off after driving over a small rock. “I don’t think this is the first and last time this will happen, and hopefully a recall will take place before someone dies from this flaw.”
“The car stalled once this morning and then completely shut down without warning,” a woman wrote of her husband’s 2005 Cobalt, which had shut down while being driven on the highway. “My husband thought he was going to die.”