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2006 Chevrolet Cobalt LT
At least 303 motorists died in car accidents after their airbags didn't deploy in now-recalled General Motors vehicles, according to a study released late last night.

The Center for Auto Safety, a non-profit automotive watchdog, reviewed data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and counted deaths involving the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, two vehicles at the heart of several ongoing investigations, to reach its conclusion.

If the airbag non-deployments were the result of a faulty ignition switch that inadvertently turns them off, the death toll would be the largest in automotive history attributed to a single defect, surpassing the 250 deaths investigators linked to defective Firestone Tires more than a decade ago. The rising death toll would further amplify questions about why GM and federal safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn't act sooner to correct the problem.

Safety advocates have said both GM and NHTSA failed to act in a timely fashion to alert motorists of the dangers posed by the dangerous defect, of which documents GM had knowledge of as early as 2001 and NHTSA knew about in 2007.

"The question today for NHTSA is how so many ... death reports without an airbag deployment and so many FARS deaths without an airbag deployment failed to trigger an investigation," wrote Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. "... For the people who died or were seriously injured in crashes, the answer comes too late."

GM has acknowledged 13 deaths related to the problem, and says the number cited by the Center for Auto Safety study is "speculation."

The review of FARS data, conducted by Friedman Research at the request of the Center for Auto Safety, looked at fatal cases in which airbags did not deploy but did not analyze the causes of the crashes. FARS information is raw data submitted to a national database by state and local authorities when fatal accidents occur.

Last month, GM recalled 1.37 million cars in the U.S. because a faulty ignition switch had been inadvertently moving from the "run" position to the "accessory" position, turning off engines and systems that provide power to airbags.

"Shame is not a strong enough word," said Lou Lombardo, the founder of Care for Crash Victims, another safety-minded nonprofit that advocates for accident victims.

The results of the CAS study were first reported by the New York Times.

Since GM first recalled vehicles in February, the scope of the problem has quickly grown. On Feb. 7, the automaker recalled 619,122 Chevy Cobalts and Pontiac G5s, but then expanded the recall on Feb. 25 to include four more models. At first, the company said GM knew about the problem as early as 2004, but documents released earlier this week indicated the company knew about the defect as early as 2001.

The Department of Justice, a U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee and NHTSA have already announced investigations into the delays of General Motors' response to the deadly defect.

A spokesperson said Friday morning the conclusions of the Center for Auto Safety's study were premature.

"As knowledgeable observers know, FARS tracks raw data," GM said in a written response. "Without rigorous analysis, it is pure speculation to attempt to draw any meaningful conclusions. In contrast, research is underway at GM and the investigation of the ignition switch recall and the impact of the defective switch is ongoing. While this is happening, we are doing what we can now to ensure our customers' safety and peace of mind."

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.

GM Recall Charges Create Headline Risk and Buying Opportunity


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  • 140 Comments
      HIGHPOWER
      • 1 Year Ago
      G.M has known about this issue for years, will Obama bail them out again.
      dcsounds
      • 1 Year Ago
      So do you think that NHTSA acted slowly to save bailout money?
      bannorhill
      • 1 Year Ago
      Government motors. This same mentality will bring us Obamacare.
      rapidrunner
      • 1 Year Ago
      the parts that are failing were made in japan and china..
        floatgod
        • 1 Year Ago
        @rapidrunner
        SO ITS BEEN THIRTEEN YEARS AND NOHTING HAS BEEN DONE! This is no excuse. What do YOU say to the 300+ people who have died becuase of this? Looks like I will go back to buying rice-burners from now on!
        rpcinc
        • 1 Year Ago
        @rapidrunner
        SORRY USA AND MEXICO
      adika3z
      • 1 Year Ago
      how shame on GM company, why GM / GMC send to china make any GM / GMC vehicles for america. shame shame on GM / GMC. that is why death city of detroit is closed area. GM / GMC is not good making all vehicles
        BOB
        • 1 Year Ago
        @adika3z
        What language do you speak? Sure not English. Only cars made in China are sold in China.
        Ron Sadler
        • 1 Year Ago
        @adika3z
        It is interesting that the government waited until they divested of their ownership of GM to make public their investigation. Insider trading, at one time, was illegal in this country.
      Bob
      • 1 Year Ago
      I have a problem with my Escalade's air bags.
      phd
      • 1 Year Ago
      Will be curious to see the distancing that the Obama White House wil do to separate itself from the new Government Motors it created, along with its buddies in the UAW... This will likely be swept under the rug, and the White House will treat it as a non story and the lapdog media will obey. Of course, had this been oh, say, Ford or some foreign maufacturer, we would be seeing a wholesale cry of coverup and screechs for Congressional hearings. As it is, no story here....
      Paul
      • 1 Year Ago
      My left nut got discintorgrated and messed my spelling up and GM don't care.All I want is an oppologe and $ 2500.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Paul
        there is no such word as "discintrograted" BAZINGA.
      mstienlee
      • 1 Year Ago
      Buy America so you can save these lazy, fat and greedy Liberal Americans' unions' jobs who sold us all out to the Chinese. Hey! Didn't GM take the 10B bail out money and lose more than that?!? Thanks Obamassiah!
        • 1 Year Ago
        @mstienlee
        Unions did what? Buy American? That is damned near impossible in most products, but in cars it looks like it cannot be done. I will promise you that no political party is without your lazy, fat and greedy Liberal members! What upsets me is that in a country that is filled with so called 'religious' people compared to Europe and Asi, there is so little concern for ethics and honosty in business. Look at advertising - how often do you get anything that looks as good as the advertising? Coke and Pepsi both use a cancer causing carmel coloring and sell their products proudly!
        • 1 Year Ago
        @mstienlee
        Ms. you really don't do your research do you? Unions didn't bail them out and most of the companies who are union didn't take the bail out money. Ford is union and they didn't take bailouts at all. Not to mention Liberals, despite what you may think (ya know outside of fox news drones telling you) are not a combined group. Most liberals have varried opinions, just as democrats and republicans have varried opinions and beliefs. To combine a group together in a way and say they all are 'fat , lazy, and greedy' really just makes you look like you lack knowledge to understand there are distinct differences even within party lines. Please take and economics 101 class or one in how government itself functions within the U.S. and outside of it. If you really want to be taken seriously please take those classes to better understand the system. Oh and Ford does make 'American' cars and is union for the record. So you are contridicting yourself. Also the union didn't sell us to the Chinese. The republican policies of the Bush administration led us into massive debt (I agree with some of the things bush did though, wars cost money) anyway we were in massive debt long before Obama was in office. Because of that debt and business demanding cuts a lot of businesses choose to take business elsewhere. Besides GM paid back what they owed the government and all of us about a year ago. If companies continue to outsource though the quality of what they make will go down. Outsourcing I mean having parts for cars made elsewhere. All companies do this so even if a body of a car might be made here the engine could be made somewhere else. All vehicle companies I know of have parts made elsewhere. So I guess if you want a car completely made in the USA you should probably get a buggy and a horse. Just being honest. This isn't one side or the other and you can look all of it up yourself. Unions for the record are in favor of things being made in the US because while there are unions overseas they aren't strong like they are here. Any union site promotes stuff made in the usa. Not sure how you can promote buying stuff here and be against unions, not really make much sense there.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Oh,,, it was a 2010 Chevy Cobalt..
      • 1 Year Ago
      It also failed in my 2000 Chevy Silverado but thank God I wasn't going fast went the other car jumped in front of me. Life is so cheap and nothing to all these big corporations. I wonder how they can sleep at night.
      june
      • 1 Year Ago
      another company too big to fail....all through time they were the masters of brazen, even their cars are sleazy!
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