General Motors

Without Government, Who Will Claim to Protect Your Safety and Fail Miserably (GM Edition)?

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So "cobalt" is also used to describe a dark blue color, but this is red. Very confusing.
Credit: njtrippe / photo on flickr

GM has recalled millions of cars over an ignition problem that could cut electricity to the steering and air bag while the car is in operation. The problem has been attributed as the cause of death for at least 19 people.

And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should have known about it by 2007, according to a new House committee report. The Wall Street Journal got a copy of the report and discovered that the report is possibly even harsher to the government agency for failing to do the job that is the reason it exists than it is to General Motors. And in the wake of GM's safety problems, the car company has made significant changes, while the NHTSA did not:

The agency was also faulted for not making any changes to its internal structure while GM has taken many steps including hiring a safety chief and intensifying its reporting process when a vehicle problem and potential recall is discovered.

"Five months later, there is no evidence, at least publicly, that anything has changed at the agency," according to the report. "No one has been held accountable and no substantial changes have been made. NHTSA and its employees admit they made mistakes but the lack of urgency in identifying and resolving those shortcomings raises questions about the agency's commitment to learning from this recall."

A state trooper in Wisconsin tracked down the ignition problem as the cause of a Chevy Cobalt crash back in 2006, but according to the report, the NHTSA paid no attention to his information (and a bulletin from GM about the ability to accidentally turn the car off) and instead focused on the airbags, "based on outdated perceptions of how air bag systems functioned." That's another criticism of the NHTSA in the House report—that they don't know how the safety systems they're supposed to be regulating actually work.

Read The Wall Street Journal story here. Shikha Dalmia has noted how NHTSA has used the recall and the problems with their own investigation to lobby for more money rather than reform.

NEXT: The Federal Budget Deficit Has Disappeared! (Not Really.)

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  1. No one has been held accountable and no substantial changes have been made.

    Do you really want to open that Pandora’s box, House committee?

    1. It was far more important to attack Toyota over idiots hitting the gas instead of the brake.

  2. OT: is this how far we’ve fallen? The article is fine, but the headline. God.

    Why President Obama Should Ask Permission to Wage War

    The comments are mostly ok, surprisingly. And then there’s this.

    Arcite ? 6 minutes ago
    Sorry, not a war, more like a peace-keeping/anti-insurgency/police operation/intervention. The US will be assisting staunch allies in the region while also protecting vital economic interests – well within the perview of the POTUS.

    1. Its a Kinetic Action!!

    2. We are keeping the (non-existent) peace by blowing the fuck out of people with bombs.

    3. “Sorry, not a war,”

      And “up” = “down”, too!

    4. So it’s true: War really is peace.

    5. Sorry, not a war, more like a peace-keeping/anti-insurgency/police operation/intervention.

      Dropping bombs in several countries is many things, but it is not a war. Ignorance is strength. Slavery is freedom. I’m feeling doubleplusgood right about now.

    6. My favorite part is ‘staunch allies in the region.’ Hilarious.

      1. HAHAHAHAHAHA…GASP…HAHAHAHAHAHA

      2. I guess they’re as staunch as they are any where else.

      3. My favorite part is, “while also protecting vital economic interests – well within the perview of the POTUS.” comes off well enough that you just might believe you could say, “So, ‘blood for oil’?” and the commentor would legitimately have no clue what you’re talking about.

    7. That comments section has more gems. Some of these people are at the Propeller Beanie and Velcro Shoes level.

      Listen, your guy lost in the last election. Most of this criticism is due to Obama being an African American.

      Congress rarely has anything useful to contribute to the conversation.

      Lost in Conor’s analysis is that the President, in his speech, asked Congress to vote on the use of force and Congress clearly has no interest in doing so.

      1. Congress clearly has no interest in doing so.

        Then the president has no legitimate authority to commit the American military to offensive operations, you insufferable prick.

    8. The US will be assisting staunch allies in the region while also protecting vital economic interests – well within the perview of the POTUS.

      What a fool FDR was, waiting for a declaration of war before sending troops to the European theater. Every operation was well within his purview.

    9. The US will be assisting staunch allies in the region

      What staunch allies? The so-called moderate rebels who sold Sotloff to ISIS? Those “allies”?

      The closest thing we have to a “staunch ally” in the region is Isreal, but of course anyone who says that is clearly just a schill for AIPAC.

  3. Someone is surprised that a government bureaucracy fucked up and no one has been held responsible?

    1. IG: I’m shocked, shocked to find that responsibility dodging is going on in here! [a courier hands IG a pile of paper]. Courier: Your testimony, sir.

  4. So while Ray LaHood’s NHTSA found it politically expedient to witch hunt Toyota, there was a real systems problem that killed 19 people in GM vehicles? If I were one of those 19 families, I’d look for some payback.

    1. US automakers were going bankrupt and being bailed out at about the same time Toyota was forced to recall over 10 million vehicles for a problem that didn’t exist. The “unintended acceleration” issue was a complete media-driven scam, yet Toyota stock dropped over 20%.

      GM, a company that was kept in business by the US taxpayer ($50 billion invested, $39 billion returned) recalls over 27 million vehicles with a provable defect known to have caused multiple fatalities and their stock goes up. Instead of a “car shuts off at speed and kills you” issue, it’s an “ignition switch” issue. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

  5. I received the recall for this last month.

    But they dont have the part to fix it, so they told me to not attach anything (even the doodad for the door) to the ignition key until they can get parts available to fix the problem.

    1. If anything happens to you, I just wanted to thank you for the tip on the Designing Great Beers book that you told me about a few weeks ago. It’s quite informative, though a little over my noob head right now.

      1. Its an insanely excellent book.

        The first half is great to get your head around the math. Then the second half is great for details on styles.

        1. The math part is easy (I’m an engineer by profession), it’s the styles and recipe building that is giving me the headache. Well worth the read though, so thanks again.

  6. Two things. First, shit happens. Whenever you manufacture tens of thousands of machines that are used in every imaginable way for years, there will be manufacturing defects that no amount of safety engineering could foresee. And this becomes more true the more complex the machines. And why are cars so complex? A good part of the reason is that the federal government mandates they be complex in the name of safety and saving Johnny Polar Bear. Nothing comes for free. You want air bags, great but understand that putting them in your car creates some risk they might malfunction. I am not even convinced GM should be on the hook for tort liability here. Maybe they should have foreseen this defect, but it is hardly clear they should have.

    Second, this whole thing points to how worthless federal safety regulations are. No car company wants to make a product that kills its customers. In fact, companies like Volvo and Mercedes Benz market their cars as being safe. The safety failures that do occur are nearly always the result of some virtually unforeseeable manufacturing defect like this. The federal regulators accomplish nothing.

    1. The regulators would not be worthless if they had more money and power. Also, command/control types will see this and point to that Brookings piece from yesterday to justify a Federal Robotics Commission.

      1. If only we let the regulators design the cars we would all have perfectly safe party issued automobiles.

        1. We could call them the People’s Car!

          1. nice

        2. Like this?

  7. Worse still, they prevent consumers and automakers from making rational tradeoffs. Air bags are a good example. In a low speed collision air bags are counter productive. If you are wearing your seat belt and have a wreck under 35 miles an hour, you are safer without an air bag, especially if you are short. If you buy your car to drive back and forth to work in slow traffic, you probably don’t want an air bag. But thanks to the feds you are getting one and paying for it whether you want it or not. At the same time, the feds are mandating CAFE standards which makes cars lighter and less safe. The market and consumers would figure out which mixture of safety, cost, and efficiency was best for each person, if the feds would allow it. But we can’t have people making their own decisions or anything.

    1. But we can’t have people making their own decisions or anything.

      How can anyone be certain that people will make the proper decision unless government makes it for them?

      1. Top men can do things like kill people by requiring insurance. No kidding

        The researchers found
        that relaxation of liability is correlated with a 10 per-cent increase in traffic deaths (or about 4,000 dead
        travelers a year). Uninsured drivers tend to drive more carefully (after all, they, themselves, have to pay for
        accidents): for every 1 percent decrease in the number of uninsured drivers, the number of fatalities increases by 2 percent.
        Despite the “moral hazard” posed by insurance, the authors concede that compulsory and no-fault systems
        aren’t all bad: though more people may die, the victims’ families are far better remunerated than in the past.

        And the victims’ lawyers of course.

        http://www.amstat.org/newsroom…..irbags.pdf

        1. I don’t buy that argument for a second. No one decides how to drive based on whether they have insurance, since car crashes are pretty unpleasant in themselves.

          1. It is not an argument. It is a fact. The statistics are what they are. Now maybe you think there is another explanation for the correlation. Perhaps there is. But unless you can come up with one, their explanation seems pretty reasonable and stands.

            No one decides how to drive based on whether they have insurance

            Sure they would. Why wouldn’t they? Let me give you an example. I have a 1966 Mustang. It is for me at least a museum piece. It was the car I owned in high school. The car, same vin number. I can’t replace that car. I absolutely drive that car more carefully than I do my other cars, which if they are ever wrecked will just result in me buying another one.

            If I couldn’t afford insurance and my car was my only way to work, I would drive differently than I do and so would most other people. And again, we are talking about the margins here. It is not that I won’t ever have a wreck. It is that i am a bit more careful such that if a few thousand or ten thousand people do the same, there are in the aggregate fewer wrecks.

            1. “It is not an argument. It is a fact. The statistics are what they are. Now maybe you think there is another explanation for the correlation. Perhaps there is.”

              I like how you realize the hole in your own stance, yet plow forward.

              It’s a correlation which could be explained by any of the many, many different factors that have changed since time one to time two.

              1. yes, “it could be explained” by things you pull out of your ass. Those things, however, are not quite as compelling as the explanation given.

                1. Do you realize how many things that could be related have changed in that time period?

                  Correlation does not mean causation, John, and you don’t have causation just because your ad hoc explanation seems to make sense. That’s how you get ‘just so stories’ science.

                  As to the compellingness of their explanation, I argued directly against that in my original comment on it.

                  1. Sure. But since you are talking about the entire country, those things tend to cancel out. And 1% is a very significant correlation. More than enough to cancel out the other various noise.

                    Statistically significant is just that “significant”. The fact that someone can imagine other causes doesn’t make it less significant.

                    1. I don’t think you understand the concept of statistical significance. For one thing, it’s not measured in percents.

                  2. Where I live I must have comprehensive insurance while the bank holds the title, but only liability once the vehicle is paid off. Quite often after paying off a vehicle I call up the insurance company and change my policy to save some money. And then for some odd reason my driving habits change a bit. I speed less. I’m a bit more careful. Why? Because if I get into a crash, I’m on the hook for all the damage to my ride.

                    But you’re right Bo. Nobody would ever drive differently based upon their insurance.

                    That’s a stupid argument from a stupid person who fails to realize that people are fucking stupid.

                    1. See my example above sarcasmic. If your grandfather left you his price 1930s Packard, I am sure you would drive that car just like you drive a Honda Civic. I mean your ability to replace the car you are driving could never have an affect on how you drive. Never!!!

                    2. Bo would probably drive it just the same. He’s got no common sense.

                    3. I don’t think you’d drive your Civic less carefully because wrecking it is something you want to avoid, regardless of its new or old, insured or not.

                    4. Yep. No common sense.

                    5. This weekend I was driving through NH and on the highway someone was driving what could have been a 30s Packard. I don’t know my ancient car history, but it was one of those elegant pieces of art from a bygone age. Anyway, I passed it twice because it was going so slow. Once before we stopped at the rest area, and again after.

                      For some reason the guy wasn’t weaving thought the lanes. He was just slowly plodding along.

                      I bet if the driver was in a Civic he’d drive exactly the same.

            2. My theory on this correlation:

              In the uninsured driver pool, men are over-represented compared to the all-driver pool.

              Ergo, more uninsured drivers = more male drivers = higher percentage of all drivers being male.

              Which, of course, leads to an aggregate driving competence superior to the more insured group.

            3. Now maybe you think there is another explanation for the correlation.

              There’s an obvious one — in places that require insurance, uninsured drivers are breaking the law. They drive carefully for the same reason a guy with a body in the back seat will drive carefully. But it’s not to avoid accidents, it’s to avoid the notice of authorities.

              1. They drive carefully for the same reason a guy with a body in the back seat will drive carefully.

                That gives me a great idea: they should mandate that all cars come with dead bodies in the back seat. Imagine how much safer everyone will drive!

            4. Incentives drive behaviors. Not a difficult concept to grasp.

          2. Yeah. People without insurance have no incentive to be more risk averse than people with insurance. People never take things like that into account when they are driving. Anyone who thinks that they do is stupid.

            1. I hate to repeat myself, but yes, I don’t think people say ‘hmm, not sure if I can cut that guy off without being hit, but since I have insurance what the heck, I’m going to go for it.’

              Car wrecks are the kind of thing so unpleasant and potentially harmful I doubt anyone factors whether they have insurance into the split second decisions that precede them.

              1. You’re absolutely right. Someone without insurance would never consider driving slower or anything else that that may result in safer driving statistics. Just like people with older cars still punch it at every opportunity since they don’t care about the added wear and tear. People are stupid. Morons. One and all.

              2. And every single decision is made in a vacuum, unrelated to the general mind set and habits of the decision maker. Some day, when you’re old enough to rent a car, you’ll understand.

                1. I think your point cuts in my favor, actually (the kind of person who chooses to go uninsured is probably also going to be the kind of person that is less than optimally careful in other areas of life, such as driving).

                  1. Yeah. It would never be the case that the person who chooses to be uninsured does so because they can’t afford it, and they still drive like a maniac because they can’t afford to fix their car. Yeah, you’re right. Everyone is stupid.

                    Especially you, Bo.

                    1. It can be the case, but its more likely the person is an impulsive, unintelligent person and that makes them both unwilling or unable to purchase insurance and the kind of person who drives in a less than careful manner.

                      And again, even for the insured person, no one wants to be in a wreck, there are deductibles, time delays, and the potential for great harm, so my more important point is that they are not going to say ‘hey, I’m insured, let’s let her rip!’

                    2. ‘hey, I’m insured, let’s let her rip!’

                      That’s stupid and you know it. The point is that someone might say “Hey, I’ve got no insurance. I think I’ll be a little more careful and cautious.”

                      derp

                    3. “The point is that someone might say “Hey, I’ve got no insurance. I think I’ll be a little more careful and cautious.”

                      Er, and the exact flip side of that is what I said. If not having insurance makes people more careful, wouldn’t having it make them less so? I don’t buy it, but there’s the logic.

                    4. In my own personal case, I drive differently if I have comprehensive or liability.

                      But according to you I am wrong, and I drive the same.

                      I suppose I should believe you instead of my lying eyes, right?

                      idjit

                    5. I think you likely are not really aware of your actual decision making processes and actions and even if are you’re experience is not generalizable

                  2. Depends, do they just not give a shit, or can they not afford insurance?

                    1. Most of the uninsured are young, less educated men. I suspect that behind both those of them that don’t give a rip and those that can not afford it that there lies a similar unintelligent impulsiveness. In other words, the kind of person who makes unintelligent and impulsive decisions is both more likely to not care and more likely to have made the kind of life decisions that leave them unable (and by unable often it means ‘spent money doing something silly instead’) to pay for insurance.

                    2. Idiots respond to incentives just like everyone else, and being smart does not make you immune to moral hazard.

                    3. No they don’t, that’s in large part why they’re idiots. They discount long term costs and weigh benefits badly.

                    4. Bo, let us analogize.

                      Do you think the existence of qualified immunity and the nearly impenetrable blue wall has any effect on how individual cops act?

        2. though more people may die, the victims’ families are far better remunerated than in the past.

          Something tells me the victims’ families would really prefer there were fewer victims.

        3. …the victims’ families are far better remunerated than in the past.

          Wouldn’t that depend on the income of the person killed?

          1. More on the income of the person doing the killing.

  8. Interesting stuff in New Zealand…

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/n…..d=11324988

    Is the Kim Dotcom-revealed email between MPAA and Warner Bros legit? Is John Key buggered in Saturday’s election over his mass surveillance lies?

    John Key told me in private that they are granting Dotcom residency despite pushback from officials about his criminal past. His AG will do everything in his power to assist us with our case. VIP treatment and then a one-way ticket to Virginia.

  9. I did a quick number crunch on this when it came out. It’s a ten to the minus nine occurrence (1 death per billion vehicle miles plus or minus one order of magnitude). It’s a trivial number compared to the other ways people kill themselves in cars.

    And yes, GM is still liable. The families should be compensated. GM should fix the cars and put in place practices to avoid this kind of problem again (which they appear to be doing).

    But I am sick to death of the outrage from people that blithely ignore the real risks in their lives and focus on evil corporations killing innocent people.

    1. I don’t think they are liable. They might be but only if you can prove that they should have through reasonable diligence foreseen this defect.

      I really hate the idea that every manufacturer of a product is strictly liable for any defect. That is bullshit. Sometimes shit just happens. And when you buy a product you should assume some risk of failure. Not all risk but certainly risk that no reasonable manufacturer could have foreseen.

      1. Assume the risk that the air bag will go off while driving?

        1. OK, for GM the issue was the airbags deactivating.

          Still, I think manufacturers have an implied warranty when they sell a car with an airbag that it will work when it is supposed to. I think they’re liable for that.

        2. Perhaps. It depends on what the defect is. If GM should have known that wiring the car that way would produce some failures, then yes, they are liable. If however, there is no way they could have known, then no. Like I say above, manufacturing a product in huge numbers exposes flaws that even the most diligent engineer won’t find during the design phase.

          1. Note that the FAA requires people that build airplanes and aircraft equipment to do safety analyses that shows no single fault that can cause the loss of an aircraft (and hundreds of passengers) will occur more frequently that one in billion operating hours.

            GM ignition failure problem is a one in a billion operational mile problem. It is stupid to think that GM failed to do their job in designing a “safe” auto.

            1. You are liable for not being perfect if you own a business, or you’re a doctor. Basically anyone who makes a lot of money has to be superhuman.

      2. I don’t think they are liable. They might be but only if you can prove that they should have through reasonable diligence foreseen this defect.

        The question is whether or not a fault tree analysis during the initial design would have shown any cases where a hardware fault could disable the airbags while the vehicle was still in motion. But this is such a weird little corner case, that it literally (not figuratively) is a one in a billion event.

        From the outside looking in, I can’t see any thing GM did wrong, unless they had problem reports from the field, did nothing about them, and continued to manufacture vehicles with a known defect.

        I think if you build a product that kills people, you need to compensate the loss. But I can’t see how GM should be “punished” as a bad actor in this case.

        1. I don’t think manufacturers should be strictly liable. I am very old school like that. It is really a policy question not a legal one.

          1. Strict liability is the world we live in. It’s how I’ve been taught to think. One more than one occasion, I have been reminded to imagine explaining my design choices under oath to 12 technical idiots.

            1. And we are much worse off for that world. We end up with worse products. The problem is that there is always a trade off. We build things to account for miniscule risks at the cost of simplicity, reliability and more often than not at the cost of creating even greater risks that result from our “safety measure”.

              I am sure you are very familiar with that. But I never miss a chance to rant about it when I can.

        2. kinnath, I don’t think the proper analysis, in determining how bad the design flaw is (vs. determining if damages exist) would be the number of deaths per vehicle miles but the number of failures of the device when it didn’t work as purported to.

          1. fuck off Bo.

            Every major industry that builds safety critical systems deals in failures per hour, or per mile, or per trip, or per use, or whatever. The entire engineering and legal framework is laid out that way.

            When you build systems that will be used for a billion miles, or billion hours, or billion uses, or whatever, you are going to kill people. Period.

            1. In your silly anger you actually concede my point:

              “Every major industry that builds safety critical systems deals in failures per hour, or per mile, or per trip, or per use, or whatever. The entire engineering and legal framework is laid out that way.”

              FAILURES per hour, per mile, etc. In the case of airbags it would be how many times they failed to work properly, not how many deaths (which is one rare potential result of that) occurred.

              1. Again, go fuck yourself.

                Read all my posts. The issue isn’t failures per mile, it is failures per mile resulting in catastrophic loss (dead people).

                And that is all the attention you get from me.

                1. To determine the faultiness of the design or operation that’s ridiculous, like judging if an alarm system is faulty based only on how many home invasions occur following it not working.

                  1. Listen you pecksniffian prick, we have already determined that you are a troll who plays stupid to aggravate other people.

                    But, in case anyone else cares:

                    You go through a fault tree that shows all the ways a system can fail. You determine the consequences of each failure. All faults that have no safety consequences are ignored (those are quality and customer satisfaction problems, not safety problems). You determine the probability that each fault will occur. You take appropriate actions to avoid or mitigate each fault based on upon the probability it occurs and the consequence of failure. That’s how it is done.

                    1. Gotta love engineers trying to explain engineering processes to lawyers…

                    2. Good alliteration – “Pecksniffian prick”.

  10. OT- my government protecting me from horrible voluntary exploitation.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/my-…..volunteers

    I am so fucking glad to be out of that shithole state.

    1. I’m gonna blog about this. I’ll give you a hat tip.

    2. My state uses Atlas shrugged as a how to manual. Yes, I’m still behind enemy lines.

  11. The problem has been attributed as the cause of death for at least 19 people.

    I seem to recall another automaker being forced to pay an obnoxious sum even though there were no attributable injuries or deaths their products malfunction.

  12. That’s another criticism of the NHTSA in the House report?that they don’t know how the safety systems they’re supposed to be regulating actually work

    Wha Wha What?!? Regulatory agencies are full of a bunch of morons that have no educational or experience background in the industry in which they are regulating because all the intelligent people actually work in the industry?

    On a brew tour in NC, the brewmaster said a FDA agent told him he needed to keep the barley in the fridge. This is the exact opposite of what needs to be done. The brewmaster refused to accommodate the agent. It would be nice if that story stirred some critical thinking in tour goers.

    1. The brewmaster refused to accommodate the agent.

      Since then the agent has returned with an FDA SWAT team in tow and shut down the brewery…

  13. The agency was also faulted for not making any changes to its internal structure while GM has taken many steps including hiring a safety chief and intensifying its reporting process…

    “No one has been held accountable and no substantial changes have been made. NHTSA and its employees admit they made mistakes…”

    But remember, it’s those EVUL PROFIT SEEKING KKKORPORASHUNZ that suck, not the magnificent, benelovent, all knowing, all seeing, all loving government.

  14. Isn’t this about knees bumping the key switch?

    What kind of moron doesn’t look and see this possibility and intentionally keep his or her knee clear? It’s your job to not accidentally operate controls when you drive. This whole thing is a boogey man.

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