The car would just shut off,” Aimee Riley recounts what her 2005 Chevy Cobalt would do, anytime, anywhere. “On a highway going full speed 65 mph and it just shut down. The radio still on, but no power to the car and it’s still in drive. I was lucky enough that when it happened on highway it was not during rush hour and I made it off just in time.”
She’s able to describe the care in one word. “Deathtrap.”
Rily was a pregnant mother of a 2-year-old when her new Cobalt first started shutting down while driving. Incredibly, it took her two more long years of harrowing near misses, service appointments, documenting, complaining and finally threatening to get GM to take her car back.
“It’s heartbreaking to hear people who lost family members when I made complaints to NHTSA, to our Attorney General, that this car was unsafe and we needed a recall or there would be fatalities and no one listened.”
The Connecticut woman complainded to General Motors, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Connecticut’s Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau, which finally brokered an arbitration deal to get Aimee’s Cobalt bought out, only if she went with another GM car. She did. And Riley, now a mom or two, had another mission.
“I wanted people to know. I asked them to recall the car before there was a fatality,” said Riley as we pored over her volumes of notes. “So you warned them to save others,” this reporter asked. “I wanted everyone to know,” declared Riley.
But 23-year-old Amy Cosilla was not so lucky, killed when her Cobalt crashed in Fishkill. Her parents never got an answer.
Michelle Cosilla, who still wears a pendant with her daughter’s picture said, “We don’t know exactly what happened. What took her off the road. There were no brake marks.”
Others whose loved ones were killed in GM crashes were on capitol hill for two days this week as well, putting faces on what is now known to be the culprit, a faulty ignition switch, and the possibility of a cover up. On the heels of blistering questioning, General Motors CEO Mary Barra carefully chose her words, “Today’s GM will do the right thing.”
But Berra ducked taking direct responsibility for 13 deaths and numerous accidents.
“It’s undeniably a tragedy that could have been avoided. My reaction is deep concern and anger,” said New York Congressman Paul Tonko was one of the legislators investigating the safety nightmare. As a group they’re demanding to know what GM knew, when they knew it, and how they tried to correct the defective part. “She still failed to respond to those question. I would call it irresponsible. They knew the switch was faulty.”
The recall was first announced in February, has now grown to include more than 2 million cars of GM’s cars. NHTSA too is being criticized by auto safety groups who raised the ignition issue months earlier, using NHTSA’s own data. Aimee Riley, who survived to share her story, is even more direct. “They knew about it but tried to sweep it under the rug.”