Parents of GM Crash Victim Fund Vehicle Safety Watch List to Save Lives

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2014 was not a good year for GM or auto and auto parts manufactures, in general. General Motors was impacted by the ignition switch defect and massive recalls that followed. Similarly, Takata – an airbag manufacturer – was also hit by widespread problems with the inflator used in its airbags. While this recall was initially limited to high-humidity regions, it was eventually expanded to cover all vehicles using  Takata airbags in the United States. However even this recall may not be enough as new calls by U.S. Senators urge the company to recall all airbags using ammonium nitrate as a propellant. These recalls come on the heels of other major recalls in past years like Toyota’s unintended acceleration glitch.

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In short, if it wasn’t already, it has become abundantly clear that many vehicles reaching the market contain serious and unaddressed auto safety defects that significantly increase the odds of a collision or other accident.  Furthermore, as the Takata and GM defects have shown, NHTSA and its Early Warning Reporting (EWR) is not doing enough to catch errors early. As a result, problems are allowed to fester and develop until they reach the point of crisis.

Understanding the GM Faulty Ignition Switch Defect Recall

The General Motors ignition switch defect was a slow developing glitch that, despite being identified more than a decade ago, was not addressed. In fact, according to an NPR timeline, the problem was identified three separate times by GM engineers. First, the problem was noticed in 2001 during pre-production testing of the Saturn Ion. The problem was detected again in 2003 after an engineer noticed that a heavy keyring was the cause behind Saturn Ion stalling issues. GM missed another chance to correct the glitch in March 2005 when the company rejected a proposal to fix the problem due to cost concerns. In May 2005 the company would disregard an engineer’s recommendation to redesign its key.

By December 2005 GM’s knowledge of the problem was further established by a dealer bulletin warning when “the driver is short and has a large and/or heavy key chain … the customer should be advised of this potential and should … [remove] unessential items from their key chain.” By March of 2007, the company had received reports from accident investigators that the defect had played a role in a fatal crash. However the company took no action and did not open a formal investigation.

Parents Believe Safety Watch List Has Already Identified New Problems with 2012 Ford Focus

In light of events of this type, the parents of one of the GM ignition switch victims have decided to establish a safety watch list that will hopefully fill the gaps left by the current vehicle safety regime. This approach isn’t based solely on a hunch or a desire to take action following a tragedy. Reports by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) and DOT’s Office of the Inspector General have concluded that NHTSA’s existing practices fails to do enough to identify and address vehicle defects. The sponsorship by Ken and Beth Melton is intended to spare parents and other family members from enduring the heartache and pain caused by fatal vehicle accidents. The watch list is being administered by the reputable auto industry watchdog The Safety Institute.

The watch list compiles and utilizes data aggregates from a variety of sources including EWR, consumer complaints and the Fatality Analysis Reporting system. This data has been publicly available sin e the passage of the TREAD Act in October 2000 in the aftermath of the Firestone tire recalls. The Safety Institute reports that this system is intended to usher in a new era of defect detection. The Safety Institute states that its watch list is compiled in accord with accepted, peer-reviewed analytical methods. If and when a potential problem or defect is detected, the Institute can suggest the need for additional testing.

The Safety Watch List Identifies Potential Problems Currently Unaddressed by NHTSA and Manufacturers

Potential problems with the 2012 Ford Focus are at the top of the Safety Institute’s Watch List. The problems with the 2012 Focus are steering-related and can result in the loss of vehicle control. One consumer complaint submitted to NHTSA in July of 2014 states:

At first the power steering would go out in reverse when I was trying to back out of a driveway. It then started to act up when I would start the car. I would have to turn off the engine and restart it. Now it doesn’t work at all. I have found this to be unsafe to drive when going around curves and corners. Also very hard to maneuver in parking lots around people and other cars.

Other complaints echo substantially the same behavior, though some vehicles reportedly displayed “STEERING MALFUNCTION STOP SAFELY CONTACT AUTHORIZED DEALER.” By and large the defect involves a locking up of the steering column or, at minimum, difficulty in steering that goes far beyond what one would experience in even a non-power steering vehicle. Currently there is no investigation and no recall open for the 2012 Focus.

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In slots two through six of the list are various model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt. The 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010 models are included in these slots, respectively. The 2009 Cobalt occupies slot nine on the list. The consumer complaints regarding these Cobalt model years are related to the ignition switch glitch and other electrical problems. While tis defect is known, it can only be addressed if owners take their vehicle in to be serviced. If they fail to do so the defect can a dwell linger on highways and roadways for years if not decades.

Other vehicles identified on the watch list include:

  • 2008 Toyota Sienna – Consumer complaints have revealed the presence of problems with the Sienna’s power train. Recalls have been issued but no further investigation has taken place.
  • 2005 – 2007 Toyota Camry – The Camry is affected by speed control issues. That is, the unintended acceleration glitch. Consumers report behavior ranging from the brake pedal becoming stuck to a sudden and rapid acceleration. While the 2007 model has been investigated and recalled, the 2005 and 2006 models have never been recalled.
  • 2011 Chevy Cruze – The Cruze is known to have a defective service brake that can be ineffective or unexpectedly stop the vehicle. The vehicle has been recalled.
  • 2011 Chevrolet HHR – The HHR is known to have electrical issues that can result in a number of effects including a frozen gear-shift, locks that toggle without a command to do so, loss of power steering, and stalls.
  • 2005 Toyota Sienna – The 2005 Sienna has issues with its structure affecting its sliding doors. The doors can become stuck and non-functional.

These issues should be addressed by vehicle owners immediately. For the uninvestigated and unrecalled issues a consumer’s options may be limited, but they should, at minimum, contact their vehicle’s dealer or manufacture to report the issue and to inquire about potential fixes. Furthermore, vehicle owners are encouraged to submit a complaint to NHTSA.

Ford & NHTSA’s Response to the New Recall Watch List

NHTSA has not endorsed the watch list, but when asked about it Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said that he was aware of it. He stated that the agency will  “go where the facts lead us.” Thus, while the agency will not endorse the list, it also is not dismissing it. Even more encouragingly, the statements by Mr. Foxx indicate that the agency will continue to take a data-driven approach to reports of potential safety issues.

For its part, Ford was unfortunately dismissive of the list and the 2012 Focus’ placement on that list. A company spokesperson stated that the company  does not “recognize the Vehicle Safety Watch List analytics methodology used for this report.” The spokesperson also stated that the company takes the safety of its customers extremely serious and has its only internal methods to identify safety issues.

Injured By a Defective Vehicle?

If you have been severely injured due to a vehicle defect, you undoubtedly have numerous medical bills and other damages such as lost wages. You should not be forced to further subsidize the profits of automakers who produce vehicles with serious safety defects. To schedule a free and confidential legal consultation at our Philadelphia law offices call (215) 246-9000 today.

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