|WASHINGTON — Federal regulators had ample information to identify the dangerous ignition defect in General Motors’ Chevrolet Cobalt and other cars as early as 2007, a House committee investigating the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found.|
The House report was obtained by The New York Times on the eve of a hearing Tuesday by a Senate panel that will examine the operations of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and question its administrator, David J. Friedman.
The report details how investigators from the agency repeatedly discounted information that did not match their assumptions — at one point a staff member referred to their efforts as “beating a dead horse.” As a result, many of G.M.’s small cars, which had defective ignition switches that were prone to turn off and disable air bags, continued to crash, sometimes with fatal results.
Making matters worse, some agency officials did not seem to understand the air bag technology at the heart of the case: At one point, the chief of the agency’s Defects Assessment Division wrote that he did not believe G.M.’s air bags were supposed to deploy when a driver was not wearing a seatbelt.
The initial report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee is based on 15,000 pages of agency documents and dozens of interviews with its staff.
“It is tragic that the evidence was staring N.H.T.S.A. in the face and the agency didn’t identify the...