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Missing Facts in the NHTSA/General Motors
Ignition Switch Scandal

NHTSA Testimony

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) declined to open investigations into airbag non-deployments in crashes of certain General Motors (GM) vehicles based in major part on two statistical analyses of consumer complaints it performed in 2007 and 2010.

From data we obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, we have examined NHTSA's claims about its statistical analyses of airbag non-deployments in injury crashes. We found that the Agency's current narrative of non-accountability lacks crucial supporting evidence in the public record.

Our full report can be downloaded by clicking the image below:

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NHTSA has represented its 2007 decision not to undertake an investigation of airbag non-deployments in certain GM vehicles as the only reasonable choice the Agency could have made, given the data that it had at the time. In fact, our analysis of the actual, underlying data does not support such a decision.

Most importantly, we found that NHTSA relied on comparisons of consumer complaint rates that have no statistical significance in its decision making. For reasons that are unexplained, these insignificant statistical comparisons trumped the ones that did have statistical significance and which would have appropriately supported a determination to investigate the airbag non-deployments further. The unreliability of the evidence NHTSA used to guide its decision would have been easy to recognize had NHTSA followed very long-established, standard, statistical practices.

The publicly available record of the scandal also raises the possibility that the decline in the rate of complaints about airbag non-deployments in injury crashes in the 2005 and 2006 Cobalt between 2007 and 2010 is not adequately explained by the introduction of redesigned ignition switches, as NHTSA currently believes.

Despite NHTSA's citation of consumers' complaints about airbag non-deployments in its official explanation of its choice not to investigate the matter further, the Agency's conclusions are not founded on some of the most basic, commonly accepted, scientific techniques for the interpretation of statistical data. Neither increased funding nor greater regulatory authority for NHTSA will resolve this problem.

If you have questions about our research, please to send us an email.

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