A heavy keychain or a bump in the road can disable a poorly designed ignition switch in 1.6 million General Motors (GM) cars. Though it knew about the defect in 2006, GM did not recall the cars involved until February of this year.
In a double failure, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor GM initiated action to address the defect until years after it was known. The first known fatalities because of the defect occurred in 2006 during the following accident:
- In October 2006, three Wisconsin teens were eastbound on a country road. For unknown reasons the car left the road, vaulted a driveway, ran over a utility box and made impact with a clump of trees. Impact with the trees caused mortal injury to all three occupants.
- None of the occupants was wearing a seatbelt. The airbags did not deploy. NHTSA investigated the accident partially because the non-deployment of the airbags.
- The car event data recorder (EDR) revealed the accident occurred when the ignition was in accessory mode and the engine was off.
- The investigative report makes reference to six previous complaints to NHTSA concerning the ignition switch. The report reads, “Some of the complaints reported a simple ‘brushing’ of the key chain or touching of the ignition switch was all that was required for the engine to shut off.”
- GM described the problem in a technical bulletin circulated in 2006 entitled “Information on Inadvertent Turning of the Key Cylinder, Loss of Electrical System.”
- The NHTSA investigator noted analysis of the relationship of non-deployment of airbags and the ignition defect “was beyond the scope of this investigation.”
At present, 31 accidents and 13 front-seat fatalities are associated with this defect. In a February 2014 recall notice, GM notes the timing of its response in examining this “phenomenon” was “not as robust as it should have been.” Such a statement is cold comfort to those who lost loved ones.
If injured in a car or other accident in Florida, speak with a skilled personal injury attorney.