At least a dozen — and perhaps more — people have died because ignition switches in a number of GM vehicles turned themselves into the “off” position, leaving the car difficult to control and disabling airbags.
GM has maintained that the vehicles are safe to drive pending the repair of the ignition switch later this spring, so long as drivers don’t attach heavy keychains or other keys to the car’s key. The additional weight from keychains and other keys is believed to have resulted in ignitions unintentionally being turned off.
“We have said publicly that we believe the car is safe to drive based on testing,” said GM’s global customer care chief. “We don’t feel it is necessary to ground all the vehicles that are out there.”
But the plaintiffs and others contend that these vehicles remain dangerous and pose a hazard not just to those in the cars, but to others on the road.
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not have the power to insist that GM notify their customers to park it now,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney. “GM refuses to voluntarily do so, even though their recall letter admits even a minor event, such as a rough road, can cause injury or death.”
On April 4, a U.S. District Court judge in Corpus Christi, TX, will listen to evidence presented to back up the two stances.
GM has offered loaner cars to owners of recalled vehicles who don’t feel safe about driving their cars until they’ve been fixed. More than 10,000 people have already requested these temporary vehicles. If the court sides with the plaintiffs, GM would presumably be slammed with several times that number of new demands for loaners.
The car company is expected to begin making the repairs as early as April 7, so the impact of a ruling against GM would probably depend on how quickly it can get these cars fixed.