(Reuters) – US car safety authorities examined evidence related to an alleged defective steering sensor used in approximately 778,000 older General Motors Co. vehicles but finally decided to initiate a formal investigation into the matter.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Reuters about the previously unreported review. The agency was evaluating information related to a lawsuit against the carmaker brought by the widower of a 42-year-old woman who died after her 2007 Chevrolet Trailblazer SUV crashed, according to documents reviewed by Reuters. The cause, claims her widow in the lawsuit, was a faulty steering sensor that the carmaker failed to warn drivers satisfactorily despite knowing for a long time that the component had problems. , is ongoing. GM, the best-selling carmaker in the United States, denies the allegations and declined to comment on the decision by NHTSA, the primary US car safety authority.
The lawyer representing the widower, Lance Cooper, wrote to NHTSA in February 2020 urging it to investigate GM for failing to notify regulators of alleged problems with the sensor in a timely manner and to recall affected vehicles, according to the letter, which was reviewed by Reuters. Cooper previously found evidence in another case that helped expose GM's failure to recall millions of vehicles with defective ignition switches, a crisis that eventually led the carmaker to resolve criminal cases in a 201
Following a request for information from regulators, GM provided documents produced in the latest case focused on the steering sensor, according to court documents.
On January 28, NHTSA officials determined that there was "insufficient evidence to lead to a formal investigation at this time," the agency told Reuters, adding that it would take future action if warranted. The agency said the vehicles that Cooper pointed out were built before a US ordinance began ordering electronic stability control in September 2011.
The sensor is an important part of GM's version of electronic stability control, called StabiliTrak. Like other such systems, StabiliTrak adjusts brakes and engine power to help drivers avoid losing control and crashing.
Mr. Cooper told Reuters he was disappointed with NHTSA's decision not to pursue an investigation. The risk of the sensor failing and disabling the electronic stability check "is undoubtedly related to car safety", he said.
Two former NHTSA executives questioned the agency's decision not to open an investigation. One said that the technology, although not required, was well on its way to becoming mainstream at the time.
A Reuters review of hundreds of pages of documents submitted to the disputes shows that since 2007 GM has faced a number of issues with the steering sensor, including high warranty claims and a manufacturing defect, without recalling the vehicles concerned.
To read a Reuters special report on the case, see.
GM, in response to questions from Reuters, said it had conducted thorough investigations with experts in many disciplines. After "a thorough analysis of internal and external data", the company said, "we are not aware of any other accident complaints" which means that StabiliTrak is disconnected due to a faulty steering sensor.
Current and former GM employees have testified. as part of the disputes that even after losing StabiliTrak, drivers can still steer and brake, so vehicles remain safe. Catalog