General Motors has repeatedly claimed that cars being recalled due to a faulty ignition switch can be safely driven, as long as the driver removes any unnecessary additional weight from their key ring. However according to Reuters, the automaker has not addressed a problem which has also been known shut off the engine, a small bump from the driver’s knee.
Due to the lack of testing from GM for the knee bump factor, safety advocates say the cars aren’t safe to drive. GM engineer Gary Altman, who has since been put on paid leave as a result of the recalls, first noted the ignition switch could be shifted out of the “accessory” position with a bump of the knee in 2004.
GM scored an important victory in regards to the recalls Thursday when a Texas judge denied a motion which would have forced the automaker to advise all owners of a recalled vehicle to park their cars until they had been fixed. The plaintiffs, a Texas couple, and safety advocates argued that there is no way to ensure the key won’t slip out of the run position unless it has been repaired.
In the case, GM filings indicated it made more than 80 tests of driving with only a bare key to prove the cars were safe to drive. The tests involved driving over a pothole four feet wide by seven feet long by five inches deep at 25 miles per hour, driving over a 4-inch high median at an angle and locking up the brakes while driving off the median, and driving around a 4-mile loop “with a series of bumps, swells, railroad crossings,” between 25 to 75 miles per hour. All of the tests described situations where a force outside the car would have bumped the key. There is no indication of a test for a knee bump.
“Based on more than 80 individual tests, including some very severe tests like driving over a railroad crossing at high speed and driving over river rocks, potholes and cobblestones, we concluded that the recalled cars are safe to drive provided just the ignition key is used to operate the vehicle. The results of the tests, all of which are described in our affidavit, speak for themselves,” GM spokesman Jim Cain said in a statement about the tests, which were run in March. He declined to say whether or not GM would conduct tests for a knee bumps in the future.
Safety advocates continue to push GM to test for knee bumps.
“They should have run that test because that’s one of the known failure problems,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Automotive Safety.
According to documents submitted to congressional investigators by GM and parts supplier Delphi, GM test drivers and customers have repeatedly experienced incidents where they accidentally bumped the key and turned off cars involved in the recall.
A GM document introduced last year during a lawsuit claimed 6-foot-3-inch GM driver Onassis Matthews inadvertently turned the ignition key off with his knee while test driving a Saturn Ion in February 2004. A February 2005 service bulletin also told dealers to watch out for shorter drivers who may pull the seat up close to the steering wheel, increasing the chances of them bumping the ignition with their knee.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has advised drivers to follow GM’s advice and drive with only the key in the ignition with no key ring attached. It has yet to respond to Reuters’ requests for comment about the risks of accidental knee knocking.