According to an analysis of federal fatal crash data conducted by Reuters, at least 74 people have died in General Motors (GM) car crashes in which a faulty ignition switch could be to blame. The Reuters analysis is the second independent study to indicate that defective ignition switches may responsible for dozens more fatalities than the 13 GM has linked to the problem.
Reuters combed through the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a database of crash records from local law enforcement agencies, for crashes involving front collisions, frontal airbag failure, and the death of a driver or front-seat passenger.
The crashes, which occurred between 2003 and 2012, included 45 front-seat fatalities in the Chevrolet Cobalt and 29 in the Saturn Ion. Reuters also compared the frequency of crashes involving airbag failure in GM cars with three similar small car models made by other manufacturers. The analysis found that rate of such crashes in the Chevy Cobalt and Saturn Ion was six times higher than that of the Toyota Corolla, four times higher than the Honda Civic, and twice as high as the Ford Focus.
Reuters pointed out that the difference in crash rates of this type between GM and the other vehicles was probably much greater, considering that “the Ford, Honda and Toyota models sold in substantially greater numbers” than the Cobalt and Ion.
Reuters shared its analysis with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and GM.
NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman told Reuters: “The final death toll associated with this safety defect is not known to NHTSA, but we believe it’s likely that more than 13 lives were lost.”
GM responded, “”Our focus is on doing the right thing for customers fixing the recalled vehicles as quickly as possible, addressing our civic and legal responsibilities and setting a new industry standard for safety.”
GM has recalled 2.6 million vehicles in February to correct an ignition switch defect that could allow the key to jostle out of position and cut off power to the engine, resulting in a sudden loss of power brakes and power steering, which makes the vehicle difficult to control. Airbags are also deactivated, compounding the danger for occupants in the vehicle’s front seats.
In March, the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington D.C.-based consumer watchdog group, released the results of a study of the ignition switch defect it commissioned, also using FARS data. The study concluded that as many as 303 people may been killed in crashes involving GM vehicles with defective ignition switches.