For the automotive industry, 2014 was the year of the recall. You couldn’t pick up a newspaper, turn on the evening news or check your favorite news site without hearing about another new and alarming recall. And unfortunately for car owners everywhere, recalls show no sign of letting up. What’s even more concerning is a lapse by automakers and federal regulators in responding soon enough to reports of serious injury and death. Visit Fatal Flaws: Crisis in Auto Safety by The New York Times for an interactive overview of the issue.
Deadly Defects Problematic for the Auto Industry
Industry advocates and safety experts say the recalls are the culmination of years of mismanagement by manufacturers and the agencies that regulate them. Take Justice Back and the American Association of Justice (AAJ) have issued an updated report (download PDF) on the safety improvements made possible by an aggressive search for justice. However, problems still remain, as evidenced by the following examples:
GM Ignition Switch Failure – GM’s defective ignition switch has now resulted in more than 39 million recalls and at least 13 fatalities, although the death toll could go much higher. GM’s failure to fix the known defect, at the cost of just $1 per car, led to an internal investigation, a $35 million fine from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), multiple congressional investigations and a victim’s fund that attempts to put a dollar value on those lost. Many families are still fighting GM for hiding the defects.
Takata Air Bags Accidentally Killing Some Drivers – The recall of air bags made by Japanese supplier Takata has affected 10 automotive manufacturers, more than 10 million vehicles in the U.S. and more than 20 million globally. The defective air bags can explode when inflated, shooting metal and plastic shrapnel at vehicle occupants. Five deaths have been linked to the defective air bags so far, and more than 130 others have been injured. Car and Driver magazine has a full list of affected vehicles here.
Trinity Guardrails Impaling Vehicles – A jury in Texas recently found that Trinity Industries had defrauded the government by failing to disclose a design change in their guardrail end terminal. The case looked at allegations that the guardrail can malfunction when struck by the front end of a vehicle. According to an ABC News 20/20 investigation, “rather than ribboning out and absorbing the impact as designed, the guardrails ‘locked up’ and speared straight through the cars, severing the motorists’ limbs in some cases.” So far, more than 30 states have banned installation of the Trinity guardrail system.
Ford Drivers Hit Off Switch Instead of Radio – Ford has recalled more than 13,000 vehicles over a design flaw that causes drivers to accidentally push the ignition switch instead of the radio touch-screen button, bringing the car to a sudden halt. No known accidents or injuries have been linked to the flaw, but Ford acknowledges that it poses a serious safety hazard.
Has Your Vehicle Been Recalled? How to Check.
The quickest way to check whether your car is affected by a recall is to use NHTSA’s online VIN-lookup tool. You can also receive updates on the latest recalls, find links to more detailed recall information and stay on top of other vehicle safety updates at SaferCar.gov.
Be prepared for an auto accident before it happens. Assemble an accident kit for your car and keep it in your trunk. Include basic medical supplies, a pen and paper for notes, a disposable camera and medical alert cards for any family member with allergies or other medical conditions. Order the free 10 Minutes, 10 Hours wallet card here and keep one in your wallet, handbag or glove box. Or download and print What to Do When You Are Involved in a Car Crash from the National Safety Council.