Yesterday we heard the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) accuse General Motors of withholding information regarding ignition switches and their connection to airbag non-deployments, but that was only the beginning. NHTSA’s David Friedman told a Congressional committee that the agency twice decided not to investigate crashes involving the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion because the rate of mortality for those cars was not higher than others.
Said Friedman, “When the team did that comparison, the Cobalt did not stand out. It was a little bit above average, but other vehicles were higher.”
During the hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel, Friedman said the NHTSA opens investigations partly based on a combination of the number of accidents with injuries, how many of the affected vehicles are on the road, and the age of the vehicles.
According to Automotive News, Friedman said three key items of information were missing in identifying the ignition switch defect: That General Motors changed the design in 2006, conversations that GM had with suppliers about algorithms related to airbag deployment, and the link between the ignition switches and the failure of the airbags to deploy. If the NHTSA had this information, Friedman believes the NHTSA would have moved forward with investigations.
However, Friedman admits that the crashes that involved in fatalities all had complicated circumstances, like drunk driving, not wearing seat belts, and driving off the road. “I wish these crashes were as simple as they appear to be. I wish the connection was as direct as we now know it is.”
Lawmakers remained skeptical with the explanation, with Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) pointing out that a 2012 investigation of some Hyundai models led to the recall of 190,000 vehicles in 2013 came from just one complaint. However, Friedman responded that Hyundai’s defect was more obvious than it was for the General Motors cars.
Stay with GM Authority for updates on the ignition switch recall.