An auto recall repair would have prevented the accidental death of a 24-year-old father in Indianapolis, Indiana last month, who drowned after pulling his 3-year-old daughter out of a sinking Pontiac G6.
Anthony Burgess put the 2008 Pontiac G6 in park and stepped out of the car to talk to a friend at an apartment complex. His young daughter stepped out of the car. He told her to get back in.
Moments later, the car was rolling backward into a frigid pond with the girl inside.
Mr. Burgess and his friend chased the car into the water. A witness on the other side of the pond jumped in and swam over to help. He took the girl from her father and swam her to shore. He went back in to retrieve Mr. Burgess but by then his head had disappeared under the water.
Mr. Burgess was eventually pulled from the pond and taken to the hospital in critical condition. He died on March 29, four days after the accident. Indianapolis firefighters said Mr. Burgess didn’t know how to swim and was probably overcome by the cold water, which was just a couple degrees above freezing at the time.
Mr. Burgess’ daughter was taken to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in critical condition but has since recovered.
Investigators believed that the girl must have knocked the car’s gear into neutral, but they weren’t sure how. The brake must be applied for the gear to change – something she wouldn’t have been able to do. Yet when authorities retrieved the sunken Pontiac from the pond, they found the gear was in neutral.
The Indianapolis Star looked into the tragic accident. Its review of auto recall records turned up a 2014 safety recall notice for the 2008 Pontiac G6 for a circuit problem that could allow the gear to shift out of park without applying the brake. Records from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) database showed that the car did not have the recall defect repaired.
“The tragedy underscores a troubling fact: Although recalls are issued for safety defects, nearly a third of the vehicles on American roads have recalls that have not been repaired,” the Indianapolis Star reported, citing U.S. Department of Transportation Records.
A recent study by Carfax puts the estimate around 25 percent, but that still amounts to about 57 million vehicles driving on U.S. roads with unrepaired safety defects.
Figures from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers show the older a vehicle becomes, the more likely it is to have an unrepaired safety defect: Seventy-one percent of vehicles older than 10 years are under an open recall, compared to 17 percent for vehicles zero to five years old.
Auto safety professionals say that’s because cars tend to change ownership as they age, making it more difficult for the auto manufacturer to locate the owner.
Some states are taking measures to address the problem of vehicles under open recall. In Maryland, for instance, when car owners register a vehicle, they get a list of outstanding recalls on that vehicle. Such a fix is fairly simple because anyone in the U.S. can find out what unresolved safety problems a vehicle has by entering in the 17-digit vehicle identification number into NHTSA’s auto recall database.
Defective auto parts can also slip through the cracks of a recall if the parts were previously salvaged from one vehicle, resold, and installed in another. Such a situation has played out with defective airbags made by Japanese auto supplier Takata.
A Las Vegas teen who nearly died when the Takata airbag installed in her refurbished 2002 Honda Accord exploded sued the salvage yard that sold a recalled airbag and the auto dealers who bought it for re-use.
Eighteen-year-old Karina Dorado was driving home from work March 3 when her Honda Accord was rear-ended by another vehicle. The relatively minor fender bender turned into a much graver situation when the impact triggered her Takata airbag to deploy with lethal force, blasting her with shrapnel and puncturing her trachea.
Although it is against federal law for a recalled auto part to be sold, the law is seldom enforced, the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted. Honda, the automaker most affected by Takata’s sweeping recalls, bought about 75,000 of the recalled Takata airbags from salvage yards over the last couple of years to keep them from being installed in refurbished vehicles, but there is no guarantee that some of the devices won’t end up inside another vehicle.