The Times West Virginian

Opinion

April 4, 2014

Putting a cost on safety issue has been culprit in 13 traffic deaths

Would you believe that an item costing just 57 cents — less than the price of a can of pop — is being cited as the culprit in 13 traffic deaths?

A simple 57-cent item.

That’s how much fixing the fatal ignition switches that General Motors installed in new automobiles would have cost, and 13 lives would probably have been saved.

No wonder members of Congress have been demanding that the new CEO at General Motors provide some answers on why it took the giant automaker 10 years to recall automobiles with such a defect.

We think the entire country deserves an answer to such questions.

Mary Barra is the new CEO at General Motors, but her career as the top woman in the General Motors organization may be over before it gets a good start the way she was treated by members of Congress on Tuesday. She was highly criticized for speaking in a “gobbledygook” language, and really pounded for not firing an engineer who apparently concealed a change in the potentially deadly switches.

And she was lambasted because her company made an economic decision to keep the flawed component in production while it didn’t meet GM standards.

Congress was certainly within its right to question Barra in this manner. Even though she was not the CEO then, her company concealed facts that apparently led to the deaths of 13 people who drive General Motors automobiles.

Barra did acknowledge that it took too long for the company to act, and she promised changes at GM that would prevent such a lapse from ever happening again. She admitted to the large body that included many relatives of the crash victims that she could not not explain why it took years for her company to say a mistake had been made.

How could she explain or justify such a travesty? This was a case of someone moving into the top position in a company and trying to apologize for things it had done, or not done, while realizing a major error had been made.

No amount of money can make up for 13 lives. Not $100,000 nor 57 cents.

And Barra said on what had to be the toughest day of her entire life — testifying before Congress when she knew she was on the negative side — “It’s not acceptable to put a cost on a safety issue.”

More than 2.3 million General Motors vehicles have since been recalled.

If this knowledge had been made public in the first place, all these recalls would have not been necessary now.

And more importantly, perhaps neither would 13 funerals.

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