clear
Tuesday May 24th, 2016 11:42AM

Government fines GM record $35M in safety case

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. safety regulators fined General Motors a record $35 million Friday for taking at least a decade to disclose defects with ignition switches in small cars that are now linked to at least 13 deaths.

It's the maximum penalty that the government can impose. But the amount is less than a day's revenue for GM, based on the $37.4 billion it took in during the first quarter, and safety advocates were quick to question its effectiveness.

As part of an agreement announced Friday by the Transportation Department and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM also has agreed to government oversight on safety issues, and to report safety problems much faster than in the past.

NHTSA has been investigating GM's delayed recall of 2.6 million older small cars with defective ignition switches. GM has acknowledged knowing that the switches had problems as early as 2001, but it didn't start recalling the cars until February of this year. The department said in a statement that GM agreed that it was slow to report the problems.

The company says at least 13 people have died in crashes linked to the problem, but trial lawyers suing the company say the death toll is at least 53. Ignition switches on Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions can slip out of the "run" position and shut off the engine. That cuts off the power steering and brakes, potentially causing drivers to lose control. It also disables the car's air bags.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, at a morning news conference in Washington, said the government will not accept a company failing to notify regulators about safety defects.

"Literally silence can kill," he said. "GM did not act and did not alert us in a timely manner. What GM did was break the law."

Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman said that a previously undisclosed 2009 memo from a parts supplier to GM clearly stated that the ignition switch problem could disable the small cars' air bags, which clearly is a safety problem.

"This is information that General Motors had from their supplier that General Motors never shared with us," he said.

Had the government possessed this information, it would have sought a recall at that time, Friedman said. The safety agency has been criticized for not requiring GM to recall the small cars despite numerous complaints from owners.

Automakers are required to report safety defects within five days of discovering them.

The $35 million penalty was doubled from last year. But Foxx still urged Congress to pass legislation that would raise the fine to $300 million. One consumer safety advocate said neither of those amounts is enough of a deterrent, and hoped that a Justice Department investigation will produce a much stiffer penalty.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, wants Justice to impose a fine of $1 billion or more and bring individual criminal charges against GM engineers and their superiors.

"That's the only way you're going to change GM's behavior," he said.

Earlier this year, Justice made Toyota pay $1.2 billion for concealing unintended acceleration problems from government regulators. No individuals were charged with a crime, however.

Under Friday's agreement, GM will have to make "significant and wide-ranging internal changes" to its safety review process, the government said. The company also has to pay added penalties for failing to meet NHTSA's deadline to answer questions about the ignition switches.

NHTSA began fining GM $7,000 per day in early April after it missed the deadline.

In a separate statement announcing the agreement, GM CEO Mary Barra said, "GM's ultimate goal is to create an exemplary process and produce the safest cars for our customers - they deserve no less."

----

Krisher reported from Detroit. Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed.
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 1 year ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 1 year ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
State DOT awards $48M contract for NE Ga. road project
The state Department of Transportation has awarded a $47.8 million contract for nine miles of work on a northeast Georgia road.
9:37AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 1 year ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 1 year ago )
Maysville man dies from Banks County wreck
The Georgia State Patrol reports that alcohol and/or drugs were factors a single-vehicle wreck that claimed the life of a Maysville man in Banks County Tuesday night.
11:07AM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
NGMC Braselton President gives first year recap
Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton President Anthony Williamson said he would speak loudly in order to compete with the noise of construction crews outside the windows behind him. That sort of challenge expresses in a nutshell the story of the new hospital’s burgeoning inaugural year.
11:15AM ( 27 minutes ago )
GSP SWAT detains Banks County shooting suspect after overnight standoff
An Athens man is behind bars in Banks County after allegedly shooting two people then leading a state trooper on a chase that led to a 4.5-hour armed standoff in Madison County.
9:46AM ( 1 hour ago )
Board gives first okay to FY 17 budget for Hall County schools
The Hall County School District will have to dip into the general fund in order to make sure all employees get a pay raise in the new fiscal year, but school board members think that's the right thing to do.
By AccessWDUN Staff
9:26AM ( 2 hours ago )
Woman avoids jail time in Buford street race that killed boyfriend
Two women will not have to serve jail time for their roles in the racing death of a motorcyclist in Gwinnett County two years ago.
By Associated Press
5:52AM ( 5 hours ago )
Lake Lanier search for missing woman suspended due to darkness
The search on Lake Lanier for a missing person has been temporarily suspended, with authorities finding no results in their hunt for a woman last seen late Wednesday night in the area of Lanier Point Park.
By AccessWDUN Staff
9:30PM ( 14 hours ago )