GM exits NHTSA safety oversight, seeks new relationship

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — General Motors Co. is pushing federal regulators to move to a “voluntary cooperation model” for safety oversight now that its 2014 consent agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over its handling of cars with a dangerous ignition switch flaw has ended.

GM was subject to a consent order it agreed to with NHTSA in May 2014 after it was revealed the company’s flawed ignition switches that prompted the recall of 2.59 million cars that year were first found to be defective years earlier.

In May 2014, GM paid what was then a record $35 million civil penalty to NHTSA and agreed to make significant safety changes.

The switch defect, which caused cars to shut off abruptly or have their air bags disabled if the ignition switch jostled out of position, ultimately was linked to 124 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

The company said it has “built a positive and productive relationship with NHTSA” during the time it was under the watchful eye of federal regulators. GM says moving to a voluntary system now would allow for “continuing dialogue on important vehicle safety issues.

“Over the past three years, we have taken significant strides toward our goal of setting a new standard for customer safety,” Jeff Boyer, GM vice president for Global Vehicle Safety, said in a statement. “For example, we took the important step of creating a new product safety structure, which has enabled us to be significantly more innovative with our safety oversight. We have also fielded and responded to hundreds of product safety concerns raised by our employees though our Speak Up For Safety initiative.”

NHTSA signaled, in a statement, that it is receptive to GM’s proposal.

“GM’s actions under the consent order have been productive and effective in advancing safety, which is DOT and NHTSA’s top focus,” the agency said. “The company’s voluntary proposal demonstrates its commitment to transparency on safety issues. NHTSA is encouraged by these future steps GM is taking.”

GM paid a $900 million fine in a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the faulty ignition switches in 2015. Under that agreement, the automaker is overseen by a federal monitor who has access to GM employees, meetings and documents and can make recommendations for corporate changes in vehicle safety.

Boyer said: “GM’s goal is to bolster lessons learned and to continue a cooperative relationship between GM and NHTSA to help further advance motor vehicle safety. In the spirit of continuous improvement, we will constantly evolve this approach to help keep the safety of our customers at the center of everything we do.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing

Staff writer Melissa Burden contributed.