It took 13 deaths and hundreds of complaints for the Justice Department to finally launch a criminal investigation into why the largest automaker, General Motors, ignored deadly safety defects in its compact cars Contrary to earlier assertions that the problem was first discovered in 2003, GM now admits that the ignition switch on its Saturn Ion stalled in 2001.
The faulty ignition switch suddenly cuts off power leaving bewildered drivers with no engine power, no power steering, no breaks and no air bags. Six GM models made from 2001 to 2007 are affected. Federal regulators also failed to take action despite receiving hundreds of complaints from angry drivers.
Last month GM finally announced a massive recall of 1.6 million vehicles. Long time consumer advocate, Ralph Nader commented that “timidity exists in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration”, which encourages a laissez-faire culture. It is also grossly underfunded - $45 million a year, compared to, say, $650 million a year that taxpayers pay for guarding the embassy in Baghdad. Another key factor that contributed to GM’s apparent lack of concern was its bankruptcy and subsequent tax-payer bailout in 2009 which immunized it from all product liability lawsuits. It is tragic that it took so many deaths and near fatalities for GM to respond. It seems once again profits take precedence over peoples’ lives.