As General Motors continues to slog through the Summer of Recalls, federal regulators say they believe it's likely more than just 13 people died in crashes tied to the ignition switch defect. Here's one example of why that might be the case.
CNNMoney today points out that in 2006, two women died in a Chevrolet Cobalt crash in Wisconsin. Amy Rademaker, 15, was riding in the front passenger's seat, and Natasha Weigel, 18, was in the back. Both teens were killed, but GM only counts Amy's death among the 13 deaths related to the defect.
Why is that? According to CNN, GM is only counting deaths tied to undeployed airbags. Due to the nature of the defective switch, when the ignition went off the airbags were turned off as well.
The reason: Amy's front-seat airbag didn't activate, a problem with the ignition switch failures. Since Natasha was in the backseat, which didn't have airbags, her death was not tied to an unactivated airbag. She died 11 days after the accident from head injuries. The driver was also injured but survived.
GM confirmed to CNNMoney that its list includes only those in the front seat of cars whose airbags didn't inflate.
So the 13 deaths are only from airbag failures in the front seats. But what about people in the back seats? What about crash victims who died from causes unrelated to front airbags? And what about drivers and passengers in other cars who were struck by the out-of-control GM cars?
Neither GM nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have released the names of the 13 known victims to the public.
Meanwhile, while GM is quick to point out that failure to wear seat belts and alcohol use were factors in at least some of the crashes, a recent investigation by The New York Times shows it's not quite that simple:
...alcohol was listed as a factor in just four of the 10 accidents that the newspaper identified — including one in which the drunken driver was actually driving another vehicle that crashed into the defective G.M. car. The driver of the G.M. vehicle, a Chevrolet Cobalt, was Esther Matthews, 73, who was killed along with her granddaughter, Grace Elliott, 13. Her 1-year-old great-grandson survived but was paralyzed from the accident.
Expect this to get a lot worse before it gets better.