by: Jim Strickland Updated:ATLANTA —
A new study of federal crash data shows the death toll from wrecks involving a recalled ignition switch is potentially 25 times worse than General Motors says it is.
The keys in 1.6 million recalled cars can turn by themselves, cutting power to the air bags and other vital systems.
Research from the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., shows 303 front seat occupant deaths in recalled Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions from crashes in which the airbag did not deploy.
There's no data on how often the ignition was switched off.
Clarence Ditlow says federal regulators failed to see a trend years ago.
"Unless you look at the crash, you don't know what the cause is, and the government didn't look at this database," Ditlow said.
GM emailed Strickland saying, "Without rigorous analysis, it is pure speculation to attempt to draw any meaningful conclusions."
"You barely have to touch it and it goes right back to its off position," said Cobalt driver Jessica Newland.
Newland spoke to Strickland while seated behind the wheel of her 2007 Cobalt. She'd driven a 2005 model months ago and experienced the engine shut-off for herself.
"I definitely feel a lot less safe, than I thought I was. I never really realized how much of a risk I was taking just by driving my car," she said.
Documents Strickland obtained show in 2005 GM considered replacing the Cobalt's slotted key with one having simple hole, so heavy key chains wouldn't slide and turn the ignition. GM didn't do it.
Paulding County nurse Brook Melton, 29, had her Cobalt in for repairs
four years ago after it suddenly turned off. It wasn't fixed.
When it happened again days later, she crashed and was killed. Leaving the shop was the last time her dad saw her.
"Just as soon as you think you've been through all the phases of grief this comes out, and it starts that grief cycle all over again," Ken Melton said.
The repair ignition switch won't be available for a couple more weeks.
GM gave a statement to Channel 2 Action News saying, "As knowledgeable observers know, FARS tracks raw data. Without rigorous analysis, it is pure speculation to attempt to draw any meaningful conclusions.
"In contrast, research is underway at GM and the investigation of the ignition switch recall and the impact of the defective switch is ongoing. While this is happening, we are doing all we can now to ensure our customers’ safety and peace of mind.
"We want our customers to know that today’s GM is committed to fixing this problem in a manner that earns their trust."