U.S. Transportation Department fines General Motors $35M over ignition switch/air bag safety defect

WASHINGTON - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has fined General Motors a record $35 million over delays in reporting a safety defect.

The defect resulted in the non-deployment of airbags because the ignition switch can move out of the "run" position in certain Chevrolet Cobalt and other GM models.

GM has acknowledged knowing about the problem for at least a decade but didn't recall the 2.6 million cars until earlier this year. The company says at least 13 people died in crashes linked to the problem.

Federal law requires all auto manufacturers to notify NHTSA within five business days of determining that a safety-related defect exists or that a vehicle is not in compliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards and to promptly conduct a recall, officials said. GM admits it did not do so.

The $35 million fine, which GM has agreed to pay, is the "single highest civil penalty amount ever paid as a result of a NHTSA investigation of violations stemming from a recall," officials said.

As part of the agreement, NHTSA ordered GM to make significant and wide-ranging internal changes to its review of safety-related issues in the United States.

"Safety is our top priority, and today’s announcement puts all manufacturers on notice that they will be held accountable if they fail to quickly report and address safety-related defects," said U.S. Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx.

Foxx said the NHTSA is asking Congress to increase the maximum penalty from $35 million to $300 million.

Affected vehicles:

The GM recall covers the 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007-2010 Pontiac G5, 2003-2007 Saturn Ion, 2006-2011 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice and 2007-2010 Saturn Sky vehicles.

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