The recall of more than two million General Motors vehicles for faulty ignition switches has cast a harsh spotlight on the automaker's failure to fix a problem that dates back more than a decade.
At least 13 deaths have been linked to the defect. The public has a right to know how a problem this big could go on for so long.
As the answers come to light, Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has a list of policy recommendations to raise the bar for accountability and help prevent another safety crisis:
GM must compensate the victims of crashes due to the defect
GM's bankruptcy filing in 2009 absolved the company of any liability for product safety problems prior to 2009. For the people who lost loved ones or were injured, the company must step up and take responsibility. That's why Consumers Union and other groups have sent a letter to GM CEO Mary Barra, calling on her to establish a compensation fund for victims with legitimate claims for loss due to these defective vehicles. We have also endorsed a bill in Congress to require such a fund. GM has hired attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who administered funds for victims of 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings, to advise the company on its options. GM must make a firm commitment to providing a compensation fund.
GM must move quickly to repair consumers' vehicles and provide loaners
Repairing more than two million cars could take months, and no consumers should be left with a defective vehicle as their only option. GM has promised it will provide loaner vehicles for those who do not feel comfortable driving their recalled vehicles until they are fixed. GM must move quickly and efficiently to finish repairs and provide loaners, in order to get these potentially dangerous cars off the road.
Congress must approve tougher standards for automakers
Lawmakers in Washington have introduced several bills to reform the system. One would require automakers to provide more information about deaths and injuries to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which would have to make that information available to the public in a searchable, user-friendly format. Another bill would provide NHTSA the necessary budget for more inspections and oversight, as well as increase the penalties for manufacturers that violate the government's safety standards. A third bill addresses the thorny question of whether evidence of this defect had already surfaced in lawsuits against GM over the years, but the evidence may have been buried because of confidentiality clauses in the settlements. The legislation would prevent such confidentiality orders from hiding information that's vital to health and safety from public scrutiny. We believe Congress should enact legislation without delay.
This is also a time to get to the answers of how this could have happened. The automaker needs to come clean to the American public. We also appreciate that the Department of Transportation asked its Inspector General to investigate NHTSA's role. GM and the federal government must take whatever steps are necessary to restore confidence and trust of American car buyers.