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Blumenthal Demands NHTSA Investigate Reports of Defective GM Safety Systems

In the past decade, GM’s brake and engine power safety feature malfunctions have been possibly linked to at least one fatal accident and tens of thousands of warranty claims, complaints, and lawsuits

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Following alarming reports of defective steering sensors and malfunctioning control systems in several General Motors (GM) vehicle models, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to immediately investigate these safety features and, if necessary, issue public warnings. According to a Reuters investigation, GM’s steering sensors and electronic stability control (ESC) systems responsible for adjusting brakes and engine power to help drivers avoid losing control, rolling over, or crashing have had an unusually high number of warranty claims and complaints, and have been linked to at least one fatal accident potentially connected to the malfunctions. GM has reportedly known about these issues for a decade and NHTSA has failed to investigate these defects.

“I am troubled that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was informed about at least one fatal accident potentially connected to the defect, as well as an unusually high number of warranty claims and complaints, but inexcusably failed to open an investigation or warn the public. I am therefore requesting all information about the defective safety feature and NHTSA’s inexplicable failure to open an investigation into the matter,” wrote Blumenthal in a letter to NHTSA Acting Administrator Steven Cliff.

Issues with GM’s StabiliTrak steering sensors have resulted in 73,711 warranty claims, four lawsuits, 59 regulatory filings, and 5,861 complaints from dealers and customers. These warnings cover nearly 10 percent of SUVs sold in those models and vastly exceed the normal rate of defects for vehicles. In one deadly accident potentially connected to the failed steering sensor in November 2014, a mother was killed after her Chevrolet Trailblazer SUV swerved, lost control, and rolled into a ditch.

“NHTSA acknowledged at least being warned about the defective sensors by the family of the woman killed, but decided in January of this year against opening a formal investigation into the steering sensors despite the voluminous reports of warranty claims and complaints,” Blumenthal continued. “Consumers have a right to know when the cars they drive are vulnerable to defects that could pose a hazard and hinder critical safety features,” NHTSA and GM have a vital duty to ensure they engage in a complete, thorough, and transparent investigation of any reports of such defects – particularly when connected to fatal accidents.”

Issues with steering sensors used in GM’s ESC system, StabiliTrak, can reportedly cause the system to trigger false safety warnings, improperly activate, or disable the system. Several GM SUV models manufactured between 2006 and 2009 have been reported to have this issue. ESC is considered a lifesaving safety feature, and has been mandated by NHTSA to be installed in all passenger cars manufactured since 2011.

The full text of the letter can be found here.