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Blog: DOT Penalties Against GM Send a Message to All Automakers


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At this Department, our top priority is ensuring the safety of the traveling public. It always has been.

Achieving that goal isn't easy. It takes commitment from everyone with a stake in our transportation system. And we know no one is perfect. But what we cannot tolerate --what we will never accept-- is a person or a company that knows danger exists, and says nothing.

Because silence can kill.

Back in February, GM issued a recall of the Chevrolet Cobalt and other models due to a defect in their ignition switches. The defect led the airbags not to work when they should.

But what we know now, though, is that GM knew about this issue years earlier. Since at least November of 2009, GM has had information linking ignition switch problems with airbags failing to deploy. They had that information, and they told no one.

They didn't tell NHTSA. And they didn't tell their customers.

In the meantime, those customers were driving cars with a dangerous safety defect. Crashes happened. And people died. Had GM acted differently, some of this tragedy might have been averted.

Our Department's search for a defect would have certainly taken a different course. We looked at this issue not once, but twice --in 2007 and 2010-- searching for the data to justify a full investigation. Had GM told us then what they told the world in February, things would have proceeded differently.

But the fact remains: GM didn't act and didn't alert us in a timely manner. What GM did was break the law. They failed to meet their public safety obligations.

Today--in an agreement we announced this morning--GM admitted as much. And for failing to report a safety defect in a timely manner, the company has agreed to pay a $35 million-dollar civil penalty, the maximum penalty under the law. It is also the highest civil penalty ever paid as a result of a NHTSA investigation into violations stemming from a recall.

But even more importantly, today's agreement includes unprecedented oversight requirements. So we're not just penalizing GM for inaction in the past; we're looking to ensure that GM cars on the road right now are safe, and that the vehicles they manufacture in the future are safe, as well. This agreement allows us to ensure that GM takes the steps necessary to change its safety culture so something like this never happens again.

Together, these penalties should put all automakers on notice that there is no excuse --and there will be no tolerance -- for failing to notify the federal government when a defect puts safety at risk.

And to make that point even clearer, we have sent Congress our GROW AMERICA bill, which would raise the maximum penalty for offenses like this from $35 million to $300 million.

So, our work doesn't end here. We'll continue working towards a safer GM, a safer auto industry, and a safer transportation system for America.

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