At the very least 303 motorists died in car accidents after their airbags didn’t deploy in now-recalled General Motors vehicles according to a study released late yesterday evening.
The Center for Auto Safety, a non-profit automotive watchdog, reviewed data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and counted deaths involving the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, two vehicles at the heart of several ongoing investigations, to reach its conclusion.
If the airbag non-deployments were caused by a faulty ignition switch that inadvertently turns them off, the death toll would be the largest in automotive history attributed to a single defect, surpassing the 250 deaths investigators linked to defective Firestone Tires more than a decade ago. The increasing death toll would further amplify queries about why GM and federal safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn’t act sooner to take care of the problem.
Safety advocates have said both GM and NHTSA failed to act in a timely fashion to alert motorists of the dangers posed by the harmful defect, of which documents GM had knowledge of as early as 2001 and NHTSA knew about in 2007.
The question today for NHTSA is the way so many … death reports without having an airbag deployment and so many FARS deaths without an airbag deployment failed to trigger an investigation, wrote Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of your Center for Auto Safety. … For the people who died or were seriously injured in crashes, the solution comes far too late.
GM has acknowledged 13 deaths related to the problem, and says the number cited by the Center for Auto Safety study is speculation.
The review of FARS data, conducted by Friedman Research on the request in the Center for Auto Safety, looked at fatal cases in which airbags did not deploy but did not analyze the causes of the crashes. FARS information is raw data submitted to a national database by state and local authorities when fatal accidents occur.
Recently, GM recalled 1.37 million cars in the U.S. because a faulty ignition switch had been inadvertently moving through the run position to the accessory position, turning off engines and systems that provide power to airbags.
Shame is not a robust enough word, said Lou Lombardo, the founder of Take care of Crash Victims, another safety-minded nonprofit that advocates for accident victims.
The results of the CAS study were first reported with the New York Times.
Since GM first recalled vehicles in February, the scope in the problem has quickly grown. On Feb. 7, the automaker recalled 619,122 Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s, then again expanded the recall on Feb. 25 to include four more models. Documents released earlier in the week indicated the corporation knew about the defect as soon as 2001, although at first, the corporation said GM knew concerning the problem around 2004.
The Department of Justice, a U.S. House of Representatives NHTSA and Subcommittee have already announced investigations into the delays of General Motors’ response to the deadly defect.
A spokesperson said Friday morning the conclusions of the Center for Auto Safety’s study were premature.
As knowledgeable observers know, FARS tracks raw data, GM said in a written response. Without rigorous analysis, it really is pure speculation to attempt to get any meaningful conclusions. In contrast, research is underway at GM and the investigation of the ignition switch recall and the impact of the defective switch is ongoing. While this is happening, we have been doing what we should can now to make certain our customers’ safety and peace of mind.