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GM's fatal approach

Date published: 4/4/2014

YOU'RE DRIVING along in your mid-2000s Chevy Cobalt and everything's fine until you lift your right knee and accidentally bump the key in the ignition switch. Suddenly, the car stalls, which means your brakes and steering no longer have their power assist.

And just then, it so happens, you really need to slow down or veer one way or another. You want to react to the situation at hand, but the car won't respond as usual, and you end up crashing into another vehicle, or another vehicle crashes into you.

What's worse, because the ignition is off, the airbags don't work, so that added level of protection your vehicle provides is useless.

General Motors says 13 people have died in crashes that resulted from such situations. But despite admittedly having knowledge of and potential remedies for the defect since at least 2004, GM chose to do nothing. For 10 years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may also shoulder responsibility, because in 2007 it chose not to open an investigation despite evidence indicating one was warranted.

Only after the deaths mounted and public awareness widened this year did the corporation and NHTSA determine that a recall was in order. So far, some 2.6 million vehicles have been recalled, including Cobalts and Saturn Ions with similar ignition systems. Published reports put the cost of the new part at less than a dollar, the time for the repair at less than an hour. The company estimated seven years ago, with the company's finances in dire straits, that with labor, the overall cost of the recall would exceed $100 million.

Here's an example of the perfect storm that occurs when the corporate see-, hear- and speak-no-evil mentality collides with a government agency that inexplicably fails to do its job. U.S. House and Senate committees were looking for answers earlier this week when they summoned GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra and acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman to face questions about the epic, lethal breakdown. Ms. Barra blamed GM's huge, lumbering bureaucracy. Mr. Friedman blamed GM for not being forthcoming with information.

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