General Motors (GM) is no longer paying federal fines for failing to answer questions about its handling of defective ignition switches and its failure to recall vehicles affected by the potentially deadly flaw.
The automaker has been racking up fines of $7,000 per day since April 3, the deadline set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The safety regulator stopped the fines on April 5, the day GM turned in a 315-page report documenting the results of an internal investigation commissioned by GM. Total fines GM amassed came to about $430,000.
NHTSA also fined GM $35 million for failing to report the deadly ignition switch defect within five days of discovering the problem, as federal regulations require. Instead, GM waited more than 10 years, making no efforts to disclose the problem until the wrongful death case of Brooke Melton, a 29-year-old nurse who was killed in a 2010 crash linked to the ignition switch defect. Court documents presented in that case, which GM fought to have thrown out, proved GM knew about the problem as early as 2001.
The defect allows the car key to jostle around inside the ignition switch, potentially causing it to slip into the “off” or “accessory” mode and resulting in a sudden loss of power at highway speeds, which is exactly what happened to Ms. Melton on her 29th birthday. Loss of engine power cuts off power steering, anti-lock brakes, and airbags.
GM has linked the faulty ignition switches to more than 13 deaths and 54 crashes, but has indicated those figures could rise. Auto safety experts believe the toll is significantly higher.
The automaker has hired Kenneth Feinberg to administer a compensation fund it established to help victims and expects it will start accepting claims in August.