In a handout photo, Aubrey Williams' 2006 Chevy Colbalt is covered by a blue tarp after a fatal crash in Lexington, Ala., Dec. 4, 2013.

Lexington Police Department (Ala.), New York Times

303 deaths tied to air bag failure in recalled GM vehicles

  • Article by: Danielle Ivory and Hilary Stout
  • New York Times
  • March 14, 2014 - 8:11 AM

As lawmakers press General Motors and regulators over their decadelong failure to correct a defective ignition switch, a new accounting of federal crash data shows that 303 people died after the air bags failed to deploy on two of the models that were recalled last month.

The calculation of the air-bag failures, by the Friedman Research Corp., adds to the mounting reports of problems that went unheeded before General Motors announced last month that it was recalling more than 1.6 million cars worldwide because of the defective switch. GM has linked 12 deaths to the defective switch in the two models analyzed, the 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2003-07 Saturn Ions, as well as four other models.

The analysis by Friedman Research looked at cases in which the air bags failed to deploy but did not evaluate what caused the crashes.

The Center for Auto Safety, a private watchdog group, commissioned the study, and, in a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, criticized the agency for not detecting the air-bag failures or the defective ignition switch.

“NHTSA claims it did not do an investigation because it did not see a defect trend,” wrote Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the center. In some instances, single complaints can trigger a recall.”

Regulators said there was still not enough evidence to warrant an investigation.

“The data available to NHTSA at the time did not contain sufficient evidence of a possible safety defect trend that would warrant the agency opening a formal investigation,” the agency said.

General Motors criticized the use of the database. It “tracks raw data,” said Greg Martin, a GM spokesman. “Without rigorous analysis, it is pure speculation to attempt to draw any meaningful conclusions.”

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