GM CEO Answers to Feds on Decade-Long Ignition Issue April 2, 2014GM CEO Mary Barra testified on Capitol Hill that she doesn’t know why her company waited a decade to publicly acknowledge a deadly ignition switch problem. Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt for General Motors. General Motors CEO Mary Barra was in the Capitol Hill hot seat today, testifying to Congress about a decade-long issue with GM vehicle ignition switches that to date is to blame for more than a dozen deaths. It’s the latest development in a controversy involving the recall of more than 2.6 million vehicles and an ongoing risk to any one driving or riding in certain GM vehicles, auto accident and product liability attorneys say. News of the issue first hit in February with the recall of 780,000 GM vehicles after reports of 22 crashes and six deaths. In each of those incidents, the ignition switch shifted out of place, causing the engine to stall and all electrical components, including the mechanism that deploys air bags, to immediately shut down. GM initially laid part of the blame on heavy key rings and bumpy roads. Weeks later, however, the death toll rose to 13. The company expanded the recall to include additional models, and admitted that it had known about the problem for more than a decade. What’s worse – GM officials now acknowledge that the ignition switch falls short of the company’s own specifications, and that fixing the problem before these vehicles rolled off the assembly line would have cost just 57 cents each. As it currently stands, the recall affects more than 2.6 million GM vehicles and the issue has prompted two congressional investigations and probes by the Justice Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. On Tuesday, Barra testified before Congress, maintaining that she does not know why it took GM, which she has helmed for just two months, to publicly acknowledge the problem, but assured that an internal investigation would provide answers in time. Meanwhile, the company last week announced two additional, unrelated recalls. One affects 490,000 late-model pickup trucks and SUVs with transmission oil lines improperly secured in their fittings. The issue allows transmission oil to leak, potentially causing fires if the oil hits hot surfaces. The second affects 172,000 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruz cars with defective right front axle shafts that can fracture and separate during operation. Wheels then could lose power without warning, causing the car to coast to an unexpected stop. If you own or drive a GM vehicle, check with your nearest dealer to find out if yours is affected by the recall. If there have been no injuries to you or your dependents related to any of the recall-involved issues, take your vehicle to your dealership where workers will repair issues free of charge and, in some cases, may provide you with a loaner car. However, if you or someone you love has suffered an injury that you believe was caused by one of these defects, get medical treatment, stop driving the vehicle and contact an experienced auto accident or product liability attorney. Jacksonville’s Harrell and Harrell, serving clients throughout Northeast and Central Florida and Southern Georgia, can be reached at 800-251-1111.