The FARS analysis didn't take into account fatal accidents where the airbags weren't supposed to deploy.

Earlier today, we reported that the actual death toll attributable to GM's ignition switch problem had crested the 300 mark according to new research, well up from the original reports of 12 to 13 deaths. Now, word is breaking that the US government database that informed the study that the report was based on may have significantly overstated the correlation between the study and the GM recall.

The initial study was conducted by Friedman Research on behalf of the Center for Auto Safety, and used something called the US Fatality Analysis Reporting System. To recap, the study claimed that over a 10-year period, 303 people were killed in Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion coupes and sedans when their airbags failed to deploy. These undeployed airbags were then linked to GM's ignition switch recall, which as we've explained before, can turn the ignition out of the "run" position and into the "off" or "accessory" position, disabling the airbags in the process.

Now, according to a report from The Detroit News, which cites research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Study Center for Trauma and EMS at the University of Maryland, the FARS analysis didn't take into account fatal accidents in conditions where the airbags weren't supposed to deploy (which isn't to say crashes and deaths weren't caused by loss of control from the ignition switching off in the GM vehicles). According to the report, this was a significant number of the cases.

There is another potential problem, too. According to that same report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses both FARS and another database on fatalities, called the National Automotive Sampling System/Crashworthiness Data System (NASS/CDS). Where FARS uses what the DetNews calls "not always reliable" police data to record vehicular deaths within 30 days of a crash, NASS/CDS relies on what's known as a probability sample. It collects data on 5,000 crashes each year – including some found in the FARS database – to calculate a probability figure.

According to a 2009 IIHS study, "Among crashes common to both databases, NASS/CDS reported deployments for 45 percent of front occupant deaths for which FARS had coded nondeployments." In plain English, FARS doesn't provide a reliable count airbag deployments.

"The bottom line is at least for the years we looked at it, the coding of airbag deployments isn't always accurate," the study's author, IIHS Senior Vice President for Research Anne McCaratt told The News. "It's frustrating because it seems like police reports would be able to code accurately whether an airbag deploys or not. It's not like trying to figure out if the driver fell asleep."

At this point, it remains unclear how many deaths are attributable to the GM ignition switch flaw. It's possible that the number of total deaths may be far fewer than the 303 claimed by the Friedman Research/CAS study we covered earlier (although it may climb back past that number once deaths across all models are included), though it's likely still higher than the 12 to 13 cases thus far acknowledged by GM. With this latest turn, though, the issue becomes cloudier and cloudier.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 31 Comments
      floatgod
      • 9 Months Ago
      Let's review here: 2, or 13, or 303 deaths (whatever it turns out to be), GM KNEW about this and did NOTHING to keep it from happening again FOR THIRTEEN YEARS! That is murder in my book. And the BS about this being vendor parts is also bogus. GM knew about this 13 years and CONTINUED to use the same vendors? Or if they changed, ones that were as equally as bad as the originals? We should have let GM go under 6 years ago and let the marketplace sort out the survivors. All we did back then was prolong the agony of this miscreant company and more money will be kicked down the rat hole (not to mention American citizen's lives)! But the UAW Neanderthals will come up with a sappy reason why GM should stay.
      Justin
      • 9 Months Ago
      13 or 303, GM is in hot water.
      Lance Smith
      • 9 Months Ago
      Regardless if it is 3 or 300...one is to many..seems like GM maybe slipped some money somewhere...
        Dark Gnat
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Lance Smith
        I figured someone would play the conspiracy card.
        Jerry
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Lance Smith
        No, it was middle managers protecting their bonuses. At GM, middle product managers get rewarded for hitting boiler plate program timing targets and number of development issues targets (less is better no matter what). End quality targets (production) are actually the responsibility of an entirely different quality organization who has very little say during new product development. It is screwed up to say the least. This type of management/bonus structure has been in place for decades inside GM (Roger Smith days). It has bred a culture of product development where "smaller" issues are ignored or snubbed during initial product development. These issues usually manifest during the first or second model year and are forcibly fixed by the quality organization. This is jokingly referred to as the "customer validation period" amongst frustrated engineers. Very seldom do the early quality issues get pinned on the product development managers once they show up in the field. For any example, look at the recall, JDP survey results, etc. for the 2011 Cruze VS the 2013. They are night and day. The customer validation period was long and hard for the Cruze and is a classic example of GM's defective management system in motion. The middle management structure is largely to blame for GM's quality woes. This type of management structure's disastrous results seem to be magnified over at Opel and Daewoo. From hearing Mary Barra talk internally when I was still at GM, I do think she sees this. Mark Reuss has an understanding of this also. Hopefully they work together to fix GM's cancerous middle management system.
      Car Guy
      • 9 Months Ago
      More proof statastics can be manipulated to say anything you want. I trust little in this world.
        dk9904
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Car Guy
        But a knowledgeable statistician can recognize when statistics have been manipulated. The general public is easily misled because they know so little about how statistics work.
      Beads Underfoot
      • 9 Months Ago
      Of course it was overstated...a foreign car maker probably hacked the system, or it could have been a strange group of folks that consider unions bad.
      Julius
      • 9 Months Ago
      Something tells me this post won't get nearly as many comments as the "over 300 deaths" one. That said, databases like FARS are only as good as the people entering the data... so you can imagine some volunteer on a police force plugging some numbers because they "have to for the government" might not care if one check-box (in this case, airbag-deployed) was right or not...
        rlog100
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Julius
        It isn't about how FARS data was documented. Its about how 'Friedman Research on behalf of the Center for Auto Safety' misused the data for grandstanding purposes.
      Roger Smith
      • 9 Months Ago
      The funny part here is,the already send the letter to my friend but telling him...There is no parts available yet for the repair.Love the GM way to do business,got our money,spend it in china,Korea and on a shocker team in England,the part that I don't understand is were is the Corvette in here almost crash when the steering wheel just lock on me I the middle of the highway,glad was stick shift and got time to react
        john96xlt
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Roger Smith
        If it wasn't for China, Korea and Europe, there would be no GM today, idiot. That's like saying if Toyota hadn't invested in the US so heavily and stayed in its home country of Japan, it would still have as high quality as they did when they were small and nimble and not selling 300K cars of each model a year. That may very well be true, but if you were Toyota, which path would you've chosen? Make everybody from the CEO to the lot attendant at the dealer rich while ripping off the masses, or making far less people somewhat comfortable in your home market, producing cool little niche vehicles, while your company is being forgotten about by the rest of the world like Daihatsu?
      yonomo200
      • 9 Months Ago
      It's 300 cases no wait it isn't. Stop reporting this crap until the dust settles. There is an ongoing investigation. Let them do their jobs. NOBODY KNOWS YET!
      Renaurd
      • 9 Months Ago
      GM should sue the hell out of these people.
        d
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Renaurd
        Why because the Detroit News is using a study that claims airbags should have deployed because of a statistical sampling instead of a survey using actual police reports from accidents. Insurance companies use statistical sampling which says I should have already been in two major accidents, five small, and had close to 20 traffic violations over the course of my driving career to price my insurance policy. In reality I have been zero accidents and had five traffic tickets. Reality is that I have a driving record in the top 1% of all drivers but I still have to pay the same insurance rate as a person who may have destroyed five cars since they got their license, but didn't have any accidents in the past five years.
      jwarney123
      • 9 Months Ago
      GO AFTER RICK WAGNER !!!! One death and neglecting the problem is a major. He was the CEO whom received ultimate pay for ultimate responsibility. Put his derrière on the chair NOW !!!!
        Jerry
        • 9 Months Ago
        @jwarney123
        Maybe him, but it is more likely that his underlings hid this from him. Data filters update in GM. Everything is red roses and bubblegum by the time news makes it to the top. They need to find the middle management who closed all of the testing incident reports without action (PRTSs in side GM) and hold them accountable. Shame on the engineers who did not raise hell about their findings getting muffled too. Need more people to stand up against this kind of ****. Not just at GM.
      t_dixon28
      • 9 Months Ago
      This is like the Salem witch hunts.
      Rr778
      • 9 Months Ago
      Imagine if apple was held to the same standard as gm. My iPhone crashes all the time, not as bad as my samsung. Of course there arent the same consequences. But in the grand scheme of consumer product gm does make a great product.
        Karfreek
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Rr778
        I have a company issued Galaxy, it's a pile of deuce. I finally convinced IT to get my phone on the company email and network. I get much more done with my iPhone than I ever did with my galaxy. They are now considering switching to iPhones because of how much easier they see I can get things done.
          Unni
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Karfreek
          what you need is BlackBerry
    • Load More Comments