Fatal Auto Accident in Macon, Georgia Involving Chevy Cobalt

There was a fatal auto accident in Macon, Georgia over the weekend.  It was a single car accident involving a vehicle that went off the road and hit some trees.  Other than the terribly sad loss of life, this particular accident caught my attention because the driver was driving a 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, which is one model recalled by General Motors.   Phillip Ramati’s report about this accident for the Macon Telegraph specifies that the accident is being investigated, so it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the cause of the wreck.

The recalls for GM are growing.  On March 28, 2014, GM recalled an additional 824,000 cars sold in the U.S.  Their most recent recall is due to the fact that the vehicles might have been repaired with the faulty ignition switch that I wrote about in my previous blog post.  According to GM, the faulty ignition switches were sold to dealers and wholesalers and used to make repairs on some vehicles.   There were about 95,000 defective switches sold, with about 90,000 used to make repairs.  The additional vehicles added to the recall include: the 2008-2010 models of the Chevrolet Cobalt, Saturn Sky, Pontiac Solstice and G5, and the 2008-2011 Chevrolet HHR.

But the recalls don’t stop there.  On March 31, 2014 GM recalled another 1.3 million vehicles for a sudden loss of electric power steering assist, a separate issue from the faulty ignition switch.  Models affected by the power steering recall, which includes the 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, can be found at www.media.gm.com.


Recall of GM Vehicles with Faulty Ignition Switch

Imagine driving down the Interstate at 70 miles per hour and your car suddenly shuts off, disabling power steering and power brakes, and preventing airbags from deploying.  That’s exactly what can happen if you’re driving one of the 1.6 million cars that have recently been recalled by General Motors.

The problem that can create this deadly situation is a “faulty ignition switch.”   If your key ring is too heavy, or if your keys are bumped while in the ignition, the ignition can switch from the “on” position to the “accessory” or “off” position, causing the car to stall, disabling electrical components and airbags.

According to GM, the faulty switch is linked to at least 31 crashes and 12 deaths; however, this number may be inaccurate.   According to a letter from the Center for Auto Safety to the N.H.T.S.A., (a copy of which can be read at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/business/gm-reveals-it-was-told-of-ignition-defect-in-01.html?_r=0), an examination of data shows as many as 303 deaths could be linked to the faulty ignition switches in the recalled cars.

What is particularly disturbing is the fact that it appears from news reports that GM knew about the faulty switch as early as 2001, but did not issue a recall until 2014.  They have now offered to fix the defect or pay $500 to those who want to purchase a 2013 or 2014 GM car.  Unfortunately, the fix, which only costs between $2-$5, comes a little too late for many people who have been injured or lost their lives as a result of the defect.

One such loss occurred four years ago, a 29-year old nurse in Georgia was killed when her Chevrolet Cobalt crashed.  It was found that the engine was not running and the switch was in the “accessory” position. To see more about this tragic loss and an explanation of how the ignition can slip into the off position, go to  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/another-fatal-crash-may-be-linked-to-gm-ignition-switch-defect/.

All of the cars recalled thus far for this particular defect are 7 years old or older, which could present a problem notifying current owners, since many of the cars are probably now owned by second or third parties who may be difficult to locate.

So what should you do if you own one of the recalled vehicles?

GM will fix the problem free of charge, but the fix won’t be available until April 7th.; Therefore, owners should immediately separate their vehicle key from their key fob, any other keys or a key ring and use only your car key while driving.  In addition, you should be careful not to accidentally bump the key while driving.  If you are uncomfortable driving your car, GM dealers are supposed to provide rentals free of charge until the fix is available.  Owners, however, are required to contact the dealer about any loaners.

Following is a list of recalled GM cars affected by the Faulty Ignition Switch:

  • 2005 – 2007 Chevrolet Colbalt and Pontiac G5
  • 2003 – 2007 Saturn Ion
  • 2006 – 2007 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2006 – 2007 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2007 Saturn Sky



Fatalities in Auto Wrecks: Bibb County, Houston County, and statewide in Georgia

The Macon Telegraph reported this weekend that there were 1,191 fatalities in traffic wrecks statewide in Georgia, 17 in Houston County, and 18 in Bibb County.  While the numbers are down from 2002, this is still far too many lives being lost in traffic collisions.   Amy Leigh Womack reports in this article that most of the wrecks were caused by impaired driving, driver error or excessive speed.

To minimize your risk, apply common sense.  Our lives are full of distractions – cell phones, fast food lunches in the car, application of make-up, etc. are all distractions that can cause wrecks in a vehicle.  So, when you are in a vehicle just focus on driving, and think about the lives and injuries you can prevent just by being a considerate driver and avoiding the common distractions that can cause loss of life or terrible injuries.  And of course, it should go without saying – don’t drink and drive, don’t drive while impaired or excessively tired, and don’t text and drive!

Auto Wreck With Multiple Fatalities and Injuries between Dublin and Macon on I-16

A multiple vehicle wreck on Wednesday, February 5, 2013 on I-16 between Macon and Dublin claimed 4 lives and caused 9 injuries.   Macon Telegraph reporters Amy Leigh Womack, Liz Fabian and Joe Kovac Jr. reported on this wreck in the Telegraph.  It appears that fog and smoke were involved and that a permit had been issued by the Georgia Forestry Commission for the burning;  according to the article, smoke from the burning of 75 acres of underbrush in Montrose combined with fog to create very limited visibility on I-16 around 8 am near the Bleckley-Laurens County line , when the wrecks started.  The chain reaction came to include 27 vehicles.

This is not the first time a highway wreck has involved smoke on the highway.  Legal issues arising out of these types of wrecks can be quite complicated, and state agencies may claim that they are immune from lawsuits in these circumstances.  For example, in Georgia Forestry Commission v. Canady (280 Ga. 825, 2006), the Georgia Forestry Commission claimed immunity associated with a controlled burn that caused smoke on the highway.  In that opinion, the Georgia Supreme Court set some general limits to the breadth of the immunity granted to state government agencies involved with police and fire protection.   While the opinion goes on at some length in discussing other states’ approaches to immunity from lawsuits for government agencies, the gist of the opinion is that government agencies are immune from suit for the policy decisions they make – both the making of those policy decisions and the implementation of those policy decisions.  But they do not appear to be immune for acts that are not involved with basic policy decisions.  So, for example, Mr. Canady could argue that the decision to not notify other law enforcement agencies of the burning was not a policy-making type of decision but a simpler decision having nothing to do with making or implementing a policy.  I would expect that similar legal issues will be involved in this complicated and tragic multi-vehicle wreck.