General Motors and the US auto safety regulator faced fresh scrutiny Tuesday as Congress launched a probe into why both were slow to act on a problem with GM cars linked to 13 deaths.
Lawmaker Fred Upton said the House Energy and Commerce Committee would hold hearings into the issue after GM announced the recall of 1.6 million vehicles last month over dozens of crashes tied to ignition switch problems.
Upton, the committee’s chairman, cited media reports that GM and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration had received complaints regarding the problems for 10 years before finally issuing the recall last month.
Upton said late Monday that the committee wants to understand what happened in the GM case, despite legislation passed 14 years ago aimed at ensuring the auto industry and the federal agency work closely to identify and resolve car safety risks.
“To better protect the public, I sponsored the TREAD Act back in 2000 so that regulators and companies could better identify safety defects in vehicles before they escalated into an ongoing problem,” Upton said in a statement.
“Yet, here we are over a decade later, faced with accidents and tragedies, and significant questions need to be answered.”
Last month, GM announced the recall of six models sold in the United States, Mexico and Canada between 2003 and 2007 in which the ignitions are at risk of shutting off suddenly during operation.
The shutdown most notably risks turning off the airbags while the vehicle is still in motion.
GM said there have been 31 crashes in which the defect may have stopped the airbags from deploying, resulting in 13 deaths.
The New York Times reported that the NHTSA received more than 260 complaints about the problem beginning in 2003.
Those included three deaths in two incidents in 2005 and 2006 when airbags in Chevrolet Cobalts did not deploy and investigators noticed the ignitions had not been in the “on” position at the time of the crashes.