General Motors allowed millions of vehicles to be built over more than a decade, not starting to recall these vehicles for their ignition switch issues until very recently. The problem spanned a number of popular GM models, and the issues with the switch could put drivers and passengers in very real danger on the highways, making the cars nearly impossible to control.
GM has been forced to recall all vehicles with the ignition switch issue, bringing the total up to 2.6 million at one of the last counts. The problem with the device is that it is possible for it to shift while a person is driving —- if a driver bumps it with his or her knee, for example —- so that it is no longer in the proper position. Even though the key has not been turned off, this movement can stall out the vehicle. This is what makes it so hard to control, and why there is such a high risk of an accident happening. When a car stalls at 70 MPH on the highway, everyone on the road is at risk.
A compound problem is that the airbags end up being disabled when the car stalls. This means that injuries could be more severe, or those who should have survived with injuries could be killed. Other features that could be disabled include power brakes and power steering.
Now that it has been determined that the defective cars were in fact causing accidents, it is having an impact on other parts of the legal system. For example, a woman in Texas was charged when her boyfriend died in a car accident a decade ago. She was 21 when the crash took place, and she simply lost control of the car for no reason that could be determined. This sent it off the road and into a tree, killing her passenger. She was charged with criminally negligent homicide, and she actually pleaded guilty to those charges.
However, those charges were later cleared because her car was one of the models that got the faulty ignition switches, and GM even found, in its own investigation, that the car caused the crash. Interestingly, the GM investigation decided this back in 2007, but the company did not contact the woman or the local authorities, with this only coming to light due to recent events.