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Report Critical of NHTSA Response to GM Ignition Switch Issue

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report concerning the ignition switch defects plaguing General Motors, as well as the response of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the faulty vehicles. The report leveled criticism as GM for failing to take action to protect consumers. It further criticized the NHTSA, claiming that the administration should have known of the danger posed by the defective ignition switches as early as 2007. The report suggested that the lack of a timely response was due to the NHTSA overlooking evidence or not having the expertise to understand it.

The Deputy Administrator of the NHTSA claimed that the group was frustrated in its efforts by GM. He accused GM officials of “actively trying to hide the ball.” As evidence, he gave testimony about a policy at GM to avoid the word “defect” in communications, with the goal of keeping the information away from NHTSA investigators.

The NHTSA investigation was particularly criticized with regard to a car crash that occurred in Wisconsin in 2006. A Wisconsin State Trooper investigating that crash connected the incident to a GM bulletin detailing the ignition switch problem. The Trooper’s crash report identified the likely cause of that accident as non-deployment of the front air bags and based the non-deployment on the ignition switch being in the “accessory” position. The Congressional report questioned why the State Trooper was able to reach that conclusion several years before the NHTSA.

Finally, the report expressed concern that the NHTSA has not taken sufficient steps following the GM ignition switch issue. It questioned whether the agency is holding itself accountable for the long failure to address the safety concern.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “NHTSA Failed to Spot GM Ignition Switch Issue As Early As 2007,” by Jeff Bennett and Siobhan Hughes, 16 September 2014

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