NHTSA won't urge GM drivers to park recalled cars

Blumenthal: "We remain extremely concerned that GM and NHTSA are not doing enough to convey the seriousness of this defect..."

WASHINGTON -- U.S. auto safety regulators have refused a request from two U.S. senators to encourage owners of cars affected by General Motors’ ignition switch recall to ground their cars until they can be repaired.

GM recalled 2.6 million cars in February over the faulty switch, which can be jolted out of position, cutting off the engine and the airbags. The defect has been linked to dozens of crashes in which the airbags did not deploy and at least 13 fatalities.

In an April 28 letter, Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to advise owners of the recalled cars to stop driving them until they can be repaired.

NHTSA said this week in a response to Markey and Blumenthal that such an action “is not necessary at this time.”

The agency said it reviewed tests in which GM simulated potholes, panic stops and angled railroad crossings, and concurred with GM’s advice to drive with the ignition key on its own, rather than on a key ring.

“Based on the agency’s engineering expertise, our consideration of the nature of the ignition switch defect, and the testing conducted, NHTSA is satisfied that for now, until the permanent remedy is applied, the safety risk posed by the defect in affected vehicles is sufficiently mitigated by GM’s recommended action,” the agency said in its letter, which was dated May 6.

The senators voiced disappointment Wednesday. “We remain extremely concerned that GM and NHTSA are not doing enough to convey the seriousness of this defect to owners of the affected cars, unnecessarily putting more lives at risk,” they said.

NHTSA continues to investigate why it took GM a decade to issue the recall after seeing early signs of problems with the ignition switch. Committees in the U.S. House and Senate have opened inquiries of their own.

GM has offered free loaner cars to affected customers, and said last month that it had loaned cars to 36,000 customers affected by the recall. The first batch of replacement parts arrived in dealerships in April.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com

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