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Auto Safety Group Criticizes Government Probe of GM Sudden Acceleration

December 2, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An automotive safety group has criticized the government’s handling of a preliminary investigation into possible sudden acceleration in millions of cars made by General Motors Corp.

The private Center for Auto Safety said Sunday that the Transportation Department is focusing attention improperly on driver errors that might cause the problem, rather than pressing to find a safety-related defect in the cars.

″After years of trying its best not to investigate General Motors passenger cars that suddenly accelerate after being shifted out of ‘park,’ the Department of Transportation has now switched to actively covering up the defect by blaming it on driver error and tangled up floor mats,″ the center said in a publicized letter to Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole.

The government is conducting an ″engineering analysis″ of reports of unwanted acceleration in 1973-85 GM mid- and full-size cars with automatic transmissions. Such an analysis, the second phase of a government defect investigation, is conducted to determine if there is a safety-related defect and, if so, to encourage carmakers to conduct an early recall.

The Center for Auto Safety claims sudden acceleration incidents in GM cars have been linked to more than 1,100 accidents involving 700 injuries and almost 60 deaths. Most complaints center on 1978 and later models, built after GM began wide use of sophisticated emissions and electronic controls, it said.

The center said the government’s most recent information request of GM focused on possible ″human factors″ explanations, rather than mechanical problems that might cause the problem. When it did ask GM about potential vehicle problems that might cause the sudden acceleration, the agency worded its request in such a way as to ″guarantee a non-response,″ the center said.

In addition, recent tests conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration were aimed at determining whether drivers of the affected cars could be at fault in inadvertently applying the brake and accelerator pedals simultaneously.

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