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General Motors recalled 3.6 million cars in the US in September 2016 for airbags that may fail to deploy in a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
According to the NHTSA, the sensor module in these vehicles can go into a diagnostic mode, which will not allow the front airbags and seatbelt pretensioners to deploy, even in a serious accident.
Some of the models that were recalled include the 2014–2016 Buick Lacrosse, Chevrolet Spark EV, and SS; the 2014–2017 Chevrolet Corvette, Silverado 1500, Trax, Caprice Police Pursuit Vehicle, GMC Sierra 1500, and Buick Encore; and the 2015–2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD, 3500 HD, Tahoe, Suburban, GMC Sierra 2500 HD and 3500 HD, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac Escalade ESV.
GM stated in September that it found out about the defect in May, which was discovered by an employee. That workers noted there was a crash involving a 2014 Silverado where the airbags did not deploy. GM did an investigation on several other crashes last summer and decided to initiate the recall.
The automotive world has been reeling since 2013 due to major airbag recalls. This GM recall is just the most recent. Another huge airbag recall has involved the Takata Corporation, which manufactures millions of airbags for vehicles all over the world.
The issue with Takata airbags involves the inflator and propellant. In some cases, they can deploy improperly in a crash and fire shrapnel into the driver and passengers. At least 34 million cars may have been affected by the Takata airbag recall in the US, and more than seven million around the world.
If you have been injured by a faulty airbag – either the GM recall or the larger Takata recall – you should obtain professional legal assistance right away. You may be able to obtain compensation for your injuries.
GM has stated that it will notify its customers and will update the faulty software at no charge. Dealers have access to the new software update, so the vehicles should be easy and quick to repair.
GM was not always this fast to fix potential safety problems. It took 12 years and 124 deaths before GM started to fix an ignition switch problem that could cause cars to turn off while on the road, which would cause the airbags to not work.
Eventually, the car maker paid $900 million to settle the criminal investigation that was related to the bad ignition switches. It also set aside $575 million for a payment fund to pay victims of the switch related accidents. It also had to recall 2.6 million cars.
According to industry experts, GM probably learned a valuable and costly lesson with the ignition switches and now reacts quickly when there is a serious safety issue with its vehicles.
This sequence of events with the GM airbag recall and the quick resolution is very different to the federal government’s experience with the electric car manufacturer Tesla. The company became aware in spring 2016 of a death that involved one of its cars; a man died when his Tesla Model S slammed into a tractor trailer when the Autopilot was deployed.
The NHTSA is still looking into whether there were any faults with the Autopilot feature. Tesla to this point is not admitting fault in the crash, although it has updated Autopilot to another version as of summer 2016.
In contrasts, the safety engineers at GM learned last May that one of its 2014 trucks was involved in a serious accident where its airbags did not deploy. An investigation was conducted and by September 2016, engineers had already found out that the problem was due to an electronic motion sensor that can prevent the airbag from deploying in an accident.
GM stated that the electronics problem had led to one death and other accidents that injured three.
How Tesla has responded to the fatality with its Autopilot is not as clear. The chief executive of the company, Elon Musk, stated on Twitter last summer that Autopilot improvements are coming, but the company has yet to release any details. It also has not stated if there will be any modifications that will make drivers stay more focused on the road.
GM, on the other hand, has been spurred due to its past ignition switch crisis to totally revamp how the company handles every safety complaint. The goal is to prevent any major safety issue from getting lost in the company’s huge worldwide bureaucracy.
All GM employees are encouraged to report any safety issues to a group of 30 engineers at the GM Technical Center in Warren MI. That program is called Speak Up for Safety, and is how GM learned about the 2014 fatality involving the faulty airbag sensor.