WASHINGTON, May 16 (UPI) -- General Motors has agreed to pay a record $35 million fine after an investigation into faulty ignition switches in some vehicles was found to have lead to at least 13 deaths.
The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the fine Friday, along with an order for GM to make significant changes to its internal safety review process.
GM signed a consent order, in which it agreed to undertake the sweeping changes as well as admitted to violating a rule requiring automotive manufacturers to notify NHTSA of identifying a safety defect within five days. It gives NHTSA full access to the results of its internal investigation into the recall of nearly 2.2 million vehicles, speeds up the process to determine whether a recall is necessary, and ensures employees report safety concerns to management.
The agreement stipulates GM can be liable in court if it fails to comply.
"No excuse, process, or organizational structure will be allowed to stand in the way of any company meeting their obligation to quickly find and fix safety issues in a vehicle," said NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman.
Added Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx: "While we will continue to aggressively monitor GM's efforts in this case, we also urge Congress to support our GROW AMERICA Act, which would increase the penalties we could levy in cases like this from $35 million to $300 million, sending an even stronger message that delays will not be tolerated."
Investigations found GM failed to act on knowledge that the ignition switch used in Chevrolet Cobalts and other models could be too-easily switched from the "run" position into "accessory mode" that caused airbags to fail to deploy in the event of a crash. GM eventually phased out the switch, but replaced it with one with the same model number, and has been accused of doing so to hide critical safety information from the public.
The recalled vehicles are 2005-2010 Cobalt, 2007-2010 Pontiac G5, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice and 2007-2010 Saturn Sky.