June 5, 2014
Center for Auto Safety Statement on Valukas Report
The Valukas report is little more than an elaborate whitewash that buys into GM’s arguments that it was a bunch of incompetent engineers, lawyers and mid-level managers who were fired as a result. The report further buys into GM’s argument that this is an airbag defect which limits the number of victims and liability. The report completely ignored the biggest source of information at GM on the defect – 2,004 death and injury claims reported to NHTSA by GM itself on the recalled vehicles through 2013. Despite claiming to have interviewed over 230 people and examined over 41 million documents, the report did not interview anyone or collect any documents on the fatal decision in 2001 to use the deadly short plunger detent ignition switch over the safe long plunger switch used as the silent remedy in 2006.
The Valukas report does damage control for GM by buying into the company’s argument that this is just an airbag defect – yet stalling has been the subject of over 300 safety recalls. GM is certainly aware that stalling is a safety defect because it litigated and lost the issue in a seminal case that established loss of vehicle power on the road as a safety defect. In U.S. v. General Motors Corp., 413 F.Supp. 933 (D.D.C. 1976), June Green held: “Even if this “defect” were not per se related to “motor vehicle safety”, the uncontested facts of this case establish that fuel inlet plug failure results in several obvious and undeniable safety hazards. First, once the plug fails, the car ‘will stop running’.” Just like today, Judge Green fined GM the maximum civil penalty for failing to do a voluntary recall.
The Valukas report ignores the 2,004 death and injury Early Warning Reports (EWR) filed by GM on the models covered by the ignition switch recall through 2013. Since the EWR system does not have a component code for ignition switch, GM could and has filed ignition switch claims under various component codes. For instance, GM reported the involved component as “Unknown” in Brooke Melton’s 2010 death, as it also did in the 2006 Wisconsin crash that was investigated by NHTSA’s Special Crash Investigations and specifically noted ignition switch movement. When Karen King and her 4-year old daughter Hannah were swept off the road by rising water on Mother’s Day 2004 after her 2003 Saturn Ion stalled, GM coded the involved component as “Engine and Engine Cooling.” The Valukas reports shrugs off the 2,004 EWR reports saying: “We do not understand that GM is alleged to have violated its obligation to submit these EWRs, and such routine reporting is not the focus of this investigation.”
The Valukas report does confirm for the first time that both a less safe short plunger and a safer long plunger detent ignition switch were designed by Eaton for GM in 2001. However, the Valukas investigation failed to address who made the deadly decision to put the short plunger switch into production. No documents are cited and no one was interviewed. The report also confirms the 2001 long plunger detent was the change used in 2006 without a new part number and blames that on Ray DeGiorgio. The failure to probe deeply into why the safer switch design was not used in 2001 flies is simply inexplicable since the Valukas investigation gathered 41 million documents and did over 230 interviews.
Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director
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Valukas Response – 5/30/14
GM Valukas Report Press Release – 6/5/14
GM Safety Initiatives Press Release – 6/5/14
Mary Barra Town Hall Remarks – 6/5/14