NHTSA Asked to Investigate More GM Air-Bag Failures

General Motors Co. (GM), in the midst of recalling 2.6 million small cars for an ignition-switch flaw that can deactivate air bags, also may have an air-bag defect connected to deadly accidents in its Chevrolet Impala, a safety group said.

The Center for Auto Safety, in a letter to U.S. regulators today, cited a government petition by a former GM researcher who said he found a software fault that can misread a passenger’s weight and render frontal air bags inoperative. The consultant, Donald Friedman, is asking the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to open a defect investigation into 2003-2010 model-year Impalas.

There have been at least 143 fatalities in frontal crashes when an Impala’s air bag didn’t deploy, Friedman said, citing data collected from NHTSA’s fatal-crash database. In 98 of those cases, occupants who died were wearing seat belts.

“This is a design defect in every GM vehicle with the flawed algorithm” in the software, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety, which has been tracking recalls and defects since it was founded in 1970.

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