Today, The Safety Institute (TSI) announces that the Melton family will sponsor the Vehicle Safety Watch List in memory of their daughter Brooke, who died in a 2010 crash caused by a well-known ignition switch defect in her 2005 Chevy Cobalt.
“Brooke would still be alive if GM had acknowledged the ignition defect and fixed it. Brooke would be alive if the regulators had followed up on their own investigations which revealed the problem,” Ken Melton said.
“It’s clear to us that the accountability systems we have in place don’t work as well as they should. The Watch List provides another tool, another way to look at defect trends. So, we are investing in a process that can help uncover emerging problems before they take more lives and turn into a full-blown crisis and cover-up.”
Brooke Melton, 29, died when she skidded into another vehicle after the ignition module of her 2005 Cobalt slipped into the accessory position. Evidence produced in the Melton case showed that GM knew about that the ignition switch problem as early as 2001.
Brooke Melton’s 2010 death was initially deemed the result of a loss-of-control crash on a rainy night. But the Meltons’ persistence revealed GM’s longstanding knowledge that its defective ignition module that could shift out of the run position while a vehicle is underway, turning off the airbags at the same time it is cutting off the engine power, anti-lock brakes and power steering. In February 2014, after GM reported the defect and launched a limited recall, the Meltons asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to open an investigation into GM’s actions.
That investigation eventually led to $35 million in civil fines levied against GM, and nearly 15 million vehicles recalled. Congress held hearings on GM’s deception and NHTSA’s failures to probe the defect when it first learned about airbag deployment failures in 2007. The ignition switch defect is also at the center of a multi-district litigation (MDL).
In light of the more detailed picture that emerged, Ken and Beth Melton returned their original settlement and pursued GM for fraud to hold the automaker accountable and improve safety for all consumers. This case was settled in April.
The Melton’s sponsorship coincides with the release of TSI’s latest quarterly Vehicle Safety Watch List, which was established to address shortcomings in the current system. In October 2000, Congress passed the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act, intended to usher in a new era of prevention and defect monitoring. But, several internal assessments, authored by the Government Accounting Office and the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General, show that NHTSA’s investigative process and recall monitoring are inadequate
Using publicly available data such as NHTSA consumer complaints, and manufacturer reported Early Warning Reports on deaths and injuries and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), The Safety Institute relies on peer reviewed analytic methods to identify potential motor vehicle safety defects that merit additional engineering and statistical review.
TSI’s Watch List identifies potential emerging defect trends by issue, manufacturer, and vehicle and while assessing the efficacy of the agency’s enforcement activities.
For the fourth quarter in a row, potential steering issues affecting the 2012 Ford Focus top the list. In addition, Toyota continues to occupy several spots for potential structure failures and unintended acceleration claims. General Motors vehicles remain on the list for potential service brake issues. None of these issues have been investigated by NHTSA or effectively remedied by the manufacturer. These complaints may indicate that the recall repairs were improperly performed or that they did not resolve a potential defect, or the root-cause has not been properly identified.
TSI believes the agency should be investigating the potential defect trends that continue to occupy a position on the list for four successive quarters. For example, 2012 Ford Focus has been the subject of two types of steering complaints: one may be related to a shutdown of the electronic power steering module; the other concerns a steering wheel trim piece that is cutting drivers’ hands. Both need further investigation.
“We have a commitment to wanting so see things change. We want solutions. We are happy to work with NHTSA to try and find those solutions,” Ken Melton says. “We can have a lasting impact on motor vehicle defect investigations going forward. We want to honor Brooke and advance the surveillance issue because at the end of the day it’s the failure that led to the ignition switch issue and Brooke’s death.”
Though failed by the system, the Melton’s recent settlement closes an important chapter in vehicle safety and opens another. They have paved the way for millions of consumers and changed the landscape for how manufacturers are dealing with their problems. They have been motivated to make meaningful change to prevent similar tragedies from happening to others. With the Melton family’s support TSI’s Vehicle Safety Watch List can help point to potential defect trends and alert manufacturers and NHTSA ahead of injuries and deaths. TSI urges NHTSA to better address potential vehicle safety defects to quickly act, investigate, and resolve sooner. Doing so will help ensure that we can stave these defects off in the future and learn from some of these failures going forward. Tragedies such as Brooke Melton’s don’t need to repeat themselves.
TSI is grateful for the Melton family’s support.
Click here to see NBC’s interview of Ken and Beth Melton and report on TSI’s Vehicle Safety Watch List.