The U.S. Justice Department is turning up the heat on General Motors, launching its own preliminary investigation into how and why the automaker delayed action involving faulty ignition switches catching blame for at least 13 deaths and 31 crashes.
The investigation will probe whether the GM might have violated criminal or civil laws requiring automotive manufacturers to advise federal regulators about potential safety problems in a timely manner. A timeline supplied by the Detroit maker last month indicates it first became aware of the problem as much as a decade ago.
The problem centers around an ignition switch widely used in a variety of compact GM models between 2003 and 2007. It appears that when the vehicle is jounced around on a rough road, or if a motorist uses a heavy key ring, the switch can inadvertently turn from the On position to Off or ACC. In such a situation, a vehicle’s engine can stall and its airbags can be deactivated.