The federal safety regulators have received more than 260 complaints about General Motors indicating that that the vehicles suddenly turned off while being driven. Many of the complaints detailed frightening events in which the car suddenly stalled on the highway, in the middle of traffic, and even while crossing railroad tracks. In December 2010, Mr. Frank had written a letter informing the safety agency that his 2006 Cobalt kept stalling. In response, the safety agency wrote back saying they had reviewed their database of complaints to determine if a “safety defect trend” existed and there is not enough evidence to open a safety defect investigation.
The most recent complaint, which was last week, involved six G.M. models. These models are now being recalled due to defective ignition switches that can shut off the engine and disable air bags.
A New York Times analysis of consumer complaints reports that The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been receiving the complaints since February 2003, but has repeatedly responded that there was not enough evidence for a safety investigation.
G.M. officials have known for over a decade that vehicle switches have failed, however federal safety regulators have overlooked the disturbing complaints of engine shutdowns. The safety agency sent General Motors a lengthy questionnaire demanding they explain why it had waited so long to recall the vehicles. The recall has thrown General Motors into turmoil as they have recalled more than 1 million vehicles.
In 2000, Congress passed a law requiring automakers to report to the safety agency any claims they received about defects resulting in serious injuries and deaths. The safety agency hired contractors to look into two fatal crashes that killed 3 teenagers. The contractors found that in both crashes the airbags in the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalts did not deploy and the cars’ power had shifted into accessory mode, which is the state a parked car is in. According to safety agency records, since 2003 General Motors has reported at least 78 deaths and 1,581 injuries involving the now recalled vehicles.