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Is NHTSA Neglecting Its Duties to Help Keep the Public Safe?

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13 deaths, and the recall of 1.6 million cars worldwide.

These are just a few of the statistics released after federal regulators declined to investigate more than 260 complaints over 11 years citing General Motors vehicles and their tendency to turn off while being driven.

A New York Times analysis of consumer complaints found that since February of 2003 an average of two complaints a month cited the potentially dangerous shutdowns, complaints that were dismissed by federal regulators due to “not enough evidence” to warrant a safety investigation.

The complaints detailed moving cars stalling at high speeds, on the highway, in the middle of traffic, and while crossing railroad tracks. The descriptions of the stalls are absolutely frightening.

“When the vehicle shuts down, it gives no warning, it just does it,” wrote one driver of a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. “I drive my car to and from work praying that it won’t shut down on me while on the freeway.”

Another driver, complaining of the same Cobalt model year: “Engine stops while driving — cannot steer nor brake so controlling the car to a safe stop is very dangerous.”

This failure to recognize a pattern of issues has plagued federal safety agencies before, most notably in the early 90’s when firestone tires caused hundreds of rollovers, resulting in 271 deaths.

Congress requires automakers to report serious defect claims that result in injury or death, but it seems these reports have fallen on deaf ears.

“We need to make it clear to both industry members and regulators that adverse events must be immediately reported and analyzed to ensure public safety,” said Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, a Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Federal agencies have begun using computer technology to determine patterns and recognize similar recurring events, but it appears more must be done.

Kevin Vincent, a federal representative and chief counsel, stated that each case must pass a legal test of “unreasonable risk to safety”


“That term ‘reasonable’ is a legal term, which is very elastic and means a lot of different things in a lot of different contexts,” he said. “Each case is a different fact pattern.”

Luckily, General Motors has recognized the pattern and is responding.

They’re recalling more than 1.6 million vehicles because of defective ignition switches, along with a host of other problems.

The recall covers six models from 2003 to 2007: 2005-7 Chevrolet Cobalts; the 2007 Pontiac G5; 2003-7 Saturn Ions; 2006-7 Chevrolet HHRs; 2006-7 Pontiac Solstices and the 2007 Saturn Sky.

Although this is a start, many remain skeptical of the automanufacturer, and the NHTSA themselves. Citing failure to respond to inquiries regarding recalls, defective parts, or damages due to the defects.

It is up to us as consumers to report issues, raise awareness, and act as a voice for those injured. If you have been injured due to a GM product, please contact the company, and speak with an attorney. Hold the NHTSA, and the auto companies themselves, accountable. Get your voice heard!

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