A faulty ignition switch may be responsible for air bags not deploying in several of General Motors’ smaller vehicles, but a faulty computer algorithm may be responsible for a similar thing in the Chevrolet Impala.
A government petition by former General Motors researcher Donald Friedman claims there is a software fault that can misread a passenger’s weight and deactivate a front airbag’s deployment. Friedman is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to open an investigation of the Chevrolet Impala built between 2003-2010. Apparently, there have been 143 fatalities where the air bags didn’t function, with 98 of front-seat passengers wearing their seat belt.
In one of the accidents, an Impala had only one of its airbags deploy. According to data Friedman obtained from the car’s data recorder, the passenger’s air bag didn’t go off because it registered him as a small adult—a setting that would prevent the airbag from being deployed. In truth, the passenger was 170 pounds.
The “small adult” setting stems from a mandate years ago where hundreds of passengers were accidentally killed through airbag deployment, most of them kids or small adults.
“This is a design defect in every GM vehicle with the flawed algorithm [in the software],” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety. General Motors has yet to comment.