GM's Cobalt had more airbag claims than other cars in class

WASHINGTON -- Tuesday was the deadline for General Motors and the government's auto safety agency to tell Congress what they knew about a deadly defect in some GM cars. At least 12 people have died and 31 have been injured in accidents linked to faulty ignition switches.

After the Chevrolet Cobalt was introduced 10 years ago, there were problems from the start, including a defective ignition switch that could suddenly turn the engine off, disabling power steering, power brakes and the airbags.

Both GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have said that despite having received numerous reports of those problems, it was difficult to see a growing trend.

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Claims of injury and death with airbags as a contributing factor
CBS News
But CBS News analyzed data from the government's Early Warning Reporting system, which car manufacturers use to report accidents when someone is injured or killed. It shows that in model years 2005 and 2006 -- the first years Cobalts were manufactured -- GM reported more claims of injury and death with airbags as a contributing factor than any other car in its class.

In 2006, Cobalts had more than 50 times as many airbag claims as Honda Civics, and five times the claims of the Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus.

In another accident reporting database CBS News analyzed, 2005 and 2006 Cobalts had the highest fatality rate per 1,000 vehicles sold in its class -- and the highest rate of fatal accidents when airbags did not deploy.

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal
CBS News
On Tuesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., co-sponsored legislation that would put more accident data in the hands of the public sooner.

"These graphs are pictures of death and destruction on a scale that is staggering, when full disclosure could have stopped them," Blumenthal told CBS News.

Many families of people who died in Cobalts had no idea there was a problem. Laura Christian's daughter Amber Rose died in a Cobalt in 2005.

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When you lose your daughter, whether you're the first one or the last one, she's still gone and it's still not fixing the problem," Christian said.

Blumenthal said he wouldn't let his kids behind the wheel of the cars.

"GM should take these cars off the road," he said.

GM released a statement to CBS News Tuesday, saying, "We won't comment on NHTSA's numbers, but we are conducting our internal review, cooperating with various oversight bodies, and we want our customers to know that we are committed to solving this problem in a matter that earns their trust. The vehicles are safe to drive with just the key and ring only and nothing else."

CBS News also received a statement from NHTSA, which said, "NHTSA conducted three separate, special crash investigations involving GM's Chevy Cobalts and repeatedly reviewed relevant data available at the time, but that data was not sufficient to warrant a formal investigation. The complaint charts NHTSA reviewed in 2007, which examine airbag non-deployment in the Cobalt and similar vehicles, show that the rate of non-deployments for the Cobalt did not stand out, with multiple models reporting higher rates. New information provided by GM has prompted NHTSA to launch an aggressive investigation into the timing of their recall. In regards to the CBS charts Vehicle Manufacturers have adopted different reporting criteria beyond what is required under the TREAD Act when submitting EWR information to NHTSA, which is why comparing raw data across vehicle and equipment manufacturers can lead to an inaccurate analysis of early warning data."

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CBS



  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.

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