At least six people have died due to accidents involving defective ignition switches in General Motors compacts prompting the automaker to recall 778,562 of its 2005 to 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2007 Pontiac G5 compact vehicles.
General Motors officials say they know of at least 22 accidents involving the ignition switches and six deaths. Both vehicle models were discontinued years ago but can still be found in used car lots and budget dealerships. The ignition switches can wear over time and heavy key rings can pull the switch mechanism out of contact causing the cars to stall and in some cases, prevent the airbags from deploying.
Auto Defects That Kill
This recall is extraordinary in the sense that many auto defects that prompt recalls rarely kill people. Toyota’s sudden acceleration recalls involved deaths. The Ford Explorer/Firestone tire rollovers killed a number of people due to tire defects. Firestone ended up recalling millions of tires and Ford replaced millions more Firestone tires on Explorers to ensure that the problem was solved. In the case of the GM vehicles, the ignition switch can fail and in addition, the airbags may not deploy. The problem with heavy key rings has been known at least since the 1960s.
GM told Reuters that it knows of five front-impact crashes and six fatalities in crashes where the front airbags did not deploy. All were high-speed crashes where the probability of serious or fatal injuries was high. GM also stated that alcohol use and failure to use seatbelts were factors in some of the cases. When the recall begins, dealers will replace the ignition switch to fix the problem. Until then, GM urges drivers to remove non-essential items off their key ring, at least until the switch is replaced.
Auto Product Liability Issues
According to auto defect attorney, Brian Chase, auto defect occurs as a result of a manufacturing issue or design flaws. Regardless of how or why they occur, automakers are required under the law to report the issues to the government and recall the vehicles so they can be fixed and made safe for consumers. In this particular case, it is not clear why the placement of the switches was not changed despite the knowledge that a heavy key ring could cause problems. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families that lost loved ones as a result of these dangerous and defective vehicles and we encourage owners of these vehicles to have them checked immediately.