In Letter To NHTSA, Blumenthal Requests Death Inquiry Letters Agency Sent To GM Regarding Defective Automobiles

(Washington, DC) – In a letter to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Acting Administrator David Friedman, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today requested that the agency send his office all death inquiry request letters NHTSA has sent to General Motors (GM) regarding ignition and airbag deployment defects found in several recently recalled GM car models, as well as all documents the agency received from GM in response. 

 “The documents I have requested are crucial in understanding why NHTSA failed to initiate a full investigation of the defects and issue a recall earlier,” Blumenthal wrote in the letter. “Since 2003, too many unnecessary deaths have occurred due to known airbag and ignition deficiencies. These accidents were well-documented and logged in NHTSA’s complaints database, yet NHTSA has repeatedly stated that the agency did not launch an investigation or direct a recall because of the absence of a critical mass. NHTSA, GM, and Congress have the duty to ensure a failure of this magnitude is prevented in the future and in order to do so, it is necessary to have a full understanding as to why a failure occurred with this case.”

Full text of the letter is below:

March 20, 2014

The Honorable David J. Friedman

Acting Administrator

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, West Building

Washington, DC   20590

Dear Administrator Friedman:

I am writing to request that the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) submit to my office the Death Inquiry (DI) request letters sent to General Motors (GM) regarding ignition and airbag deployment defects found in several recently recalled GM car models, and all the documents received from GM in response.

Since 2003, too many unnecessary deaths have occurred due to known airbag and ignition deficiencies. These accidents were well-documented and logged in NHTSA’s complaints database, yet NHTSA has repeatedly stated that the agency did not launch an investigation or direct a recall because of the absence of a critical mass.

As you know, through the Emergency Warning Reporting (EWR) system, car manufacturers are able to provide NHTSA with additional information that might help NHTSA identify potential safety defects. According to the Center on Auto Safety (CAS), between 2004 and 2012, GM made 51 EWR submissions. Between 2004 and 2007, NHTSA made DI requests on almost all of the EWR files received—17 out of 19. However, between 2008 and 2012, NHTSA only requested DIs on 12 of the 32 EWR submissions received. This represents a significant and sudden decrease in the percentage of EWR submissions leading to further inquiries by NHTSA. In a letter dated March 14, 2014 to NHTSA, CAS suggests that NHTSA became aware of the fact that the accidents in question were a result of ignition failures sometime between 2004 and 2007.

The documents I have requested are crucial in understanding why NHTSA failed to initiate a full investigation of the defects and issue a recall earlier. In addition, please explain why the number of DIs decreased so dramatically during the period 2008 to 2012, compared to the period from 2004 to 2007.

NHTSA, GM, and Congress have the duty to ensure a failure of this magnitude is prevented in the future and in order to do so, it is necessary to have a full understanding as to why a failure occurred with this case. NHTSA’s DI requests and the subsequent exchange between NHTSA and GM are instrumental in concluding which parties should be held accountable for this fatal oversight and in establishing the best practices to prevent future incidents of this nature.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

Richard Blumenthal

United States Senate