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NHTSA Looks Into Another Airbag Problem with GM Chevy Impalas

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General Motors’ problems don’t seem to be going away. According to a recent report by ABC News, the company is now under scrutiny from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for possible problems with the airbags in some of its Chevy Impala models.

The company is already under an official NHTSA investigation for its delayed reaction to ignition switch problems that led to at least 13 deaths in related vehicle crashes. So far this year, it has recalled over 29 million vehicles, according to Bloomberg, the most recalls of any carmaker in a single year.

Air Bag Fails to Deploy

Donald Friedman, Co-Founder of the Center for Injury Research, examined a crash that occurred in April 2011 in Texas. A woman was driving her elderly husband in a 2008 Chevy Impala. They were hit by an SUV. Their car crashed into a concrete highway divider—a situation in which the vehicle’s airbags would typically deploy. In this case, however, that happened only on the driver’s side. The passenger’s side didn’t perform as expected. The elderly man suffered permanent brain injuries and passed away 10 months later.

Friedman sent his results to the NHTSA, asking them to look into the issue. He suspected the reason the passenger airbag didn’t deploy was because the weight sensor was defective, and hadn’t properly sensed the man’s weight, which was 170 pounds. (If the sensor thinks the weight reflects that of a child or small adult, it doesn’t deploy because of injury risk.) The petition requested the NHTSA recall any cars that used the same computer sensor system, including over 300,000 Chevy Impalas from 2007 to 2009.

GM Planning to Compensate Victims

So far, the NHTSA has not opened a formal investigation. They have stated that they will review the data. GM has also stated it is cooperating with the association.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the company is creating a settlement fund for those filing claims concerning the ignition defect. Chevrolet Cobalts and HHRs; Pontiac G5s, Pursuits, and Solstices; and Saturn Ions and Skys of various models were all recalled after it was revealed that the ignition switch could inadvertently turn to the off position. If this happened during an accident, it prevented the airbags from deploying, potentially resulting in serious injury and/or death.

The company plans to offer claimants settlements ranging from $20,000 to several million dollars, depending on the extent of their injuries. Plaintiffs will likely have to provide some evidence that the vehicle powered off or that the air bags didn’t deploy as expected.

GM just recently issued its 60th recall, affecting SUV vehicles with potentially defective power switches.