Release: April 7, 2014
NHTSA FAILS TO ACT ON NEW GM AIRBAG NON-DEPLOYMENT DEFECT
CAS today revealed NHTSA has sat on a defect petition since November 2013 on a deadly algorithm defect that can cause airbag non-deployment in Chevrolet Impalas with Advanced Airbag Systems approved for compliance with FMVSS 208 on June 12, 2000. Donald Friedman of Xprts, the former chief contractor for NHTSA’s Research Safety Vehicle Program, filed the petition which stated:
“The algorithm for the weight of the passenger used the instantaneous weight to determine whether to inhibit the airbag deployment. [A vehicle] lift and bounce [can] momentarily reduce[d] the weight of the passenger to that of a small adult. Using a weight averaged over a few tens of seconds would have avoided suppressing the airbag and the resulting serious injury and fatality. Since the control module is field reprogrammable a simple recall and modifying a few lines of code can avoid repeat occurrences.”
Mr. Friedman discovered the defect by analyzing data from a 2008 Chevrolet Impala which showed the passenger’s weight varying from that of a normal adult which would trigger the airbag to that of a small adult which would disable the airbag enable algorithm.
CAS wrote NHTSA the agency violated the Safety Act by not granting or denying the petition within 120 days and called for immediate action. CAS Executive Director Clarence Ditlow said:
The Center is deeply troubled that NHTSA once again may have missed an advanced airbag like it did with the Cobalt. The Center is even more troubled that once again NHTSA has kept whatever it is doing secret behind closed doors even though there is a specific legal requirement for NHTSA to make its activities public.
From Calendar Year 2000 when GM could have introduced advanced airbag vehicles with the flawed algorithm just through 2010, there were 143 frontal impact fatalities in model year 2000 to 2010 Chevrolet Impalas where the airbags failed to deploy with 98 of the fatalities being occupants who were lap/shoulder belted. We call on NHTSA to examine each of the fatal non-deployment crashes to determine whether the airbag should have deployed and why it didn’t.
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GM Response to NHTSA Information Request – 10/3/14
NHTSA Information Request to GM – 8/26/14
Friedman Letter to NHTSA – 8/15/14