General Motors Co.’s ignition switch recall debacle is clearly far from finished, as the automaker is dragged back into the headlines by two members of the United States Congress. The Democratic senators want federal regulators to force GM to tell owners of the recalled vehicles to stop driving them until repairs can be made.
Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut want the embattled automaker to instruct the owners affected by the 2.6 million vehicle recall to cease driving their cars until dealers can get them fixed. GM did not want to issue a ‘park it now’ order, insisting that the cars are safe to drive as long as the ignition switch key did not have anything hanging from it, such as fobs or other keys. The senators, both of whom are members of the Senate Commerce Committee in charge of the probe into the safety issue, then made a move to force GM to issue such order—the lawmakers asked the Department of Transportation to act on their behalf.
On Monday, the senators wrote to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, asking him to warn the owners of the recalled vehicles.
“GM has indicated that it could take until October, 2014, before it can complete all the needed repairs,” they wrote. “Every day that unrepaired vehicles remain on the road increases the risk of more injuries, deaths and damage.”
GM has began shipping the replacement ignition switches to dealerships but admitted that they may not have enough parts to hand out to dealers until October.
The recalled GM vehicles were equipped with defective ignition switches, those that could change from ‘on’ or ‘run’ position into ‘accessory’ mode when bumped or jostled. When the switch is on ‘accessory’ mode, airbags are deactivated, increasing the risk of injury or death in the event of a crash. 13 fatalities have been linked to this problem. The faulty switches are also connected to power steering and power brake issues.
The Transportation Department issued a statement in response to the senators’ request. “We will respond directly to Senators Markey and Blumenthal regarding their letter,” it said.
However, it also offered a reminder for the customers affected by the recall.
“In the meantime, we continue to urge owners and drivers of affected Chevy Cobalt and Saturn Ion vehicles to always wear their seat belts and until the vehicle is remedied, to follow GM’s recommendation to use only the ignition key with nothing else on the key ring when operating the vehicle,” it said.
This reminder reinforced Secretary Foxx’s earlier stand. Last month, he told The Detroit News he will not tell people to stop driving the recalled vehicles. He also said that the department wants the affected car owners to follow GM’s instructions.
It is unclear if the senators’ request would put enough pressure on GM to make the company change its mind, but it is unlikely for GM to make such order. The automaker recently had a key victory, after a federal judge declined to force it to issue a ‘park it now’ notice.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled in favor of GM, saying that “the court is of the opinion that NHTSA is far better equipped than this court to address the broad and complex issues of automotive safety and the regulation of automotive companies in connection with the nationwide recall.”
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