The Key Is Key

Quick quiz: How many keys can you safely carry on your car key ring? If you said anything more than one, you failed the test . . . more importantly, your car’s forward motion and airbags could fail while you’re driving down the road.

In February, GM recalled more than 1.6 million vehicles with faulty ignition switches. The vehicles being recalled in the U.S. are Chevrolet Cobalts from the 2005-07 model years; 2003-07 Saturn Ions; 2006-07 Chevrolet HHRs and Pontiac Solstices; and 2007 Saturn Sky and Pontiac G5 models.

The recall was made because ‘a jarring event’ may cause the ignition switch to move out of the “run” position. The jarring could occur because the driver’s knee knocks against the steering column, because of a pothole or other road condition, or because of the weight of a heavy key ring. When the ignition is moved out of the “run” position, the engine is turned off, as are most of the car’s electrical components such as power steering, anti-lock brakes, airbags and lighting.

As you can well imagine, this is a recipe for disaster. In fact, the faulty ignition switches in the recalled GM cars have been linked to 31 crashes and 12 deaths.

Congress is investigating whether GM knew about the ignition switch problem more than a decade ago and failed to do anything about it. A House committee gave GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) until March 25 to provide details about its prior knowledge, and the U.S. attorney’s office in New York has opened a criminal probe into the circumstances surrounding the General Motors ignition switch recall.

Owners of the recalled models can have the ignition repaired. However, a GM document filed with NHTSA says, “We recommend that customers only utilize the key, key ring and key fob (if equipped) that came with the vehicle.” Reuters reported that a GM spokesman warned that no ignition switch is safe from being moved from the “run” position if the key chain is too heavy or bulky.

This would seem to be supported by MercedesSource, a website which cautions, “We have found that one of the main reasons for early failure of [some Mercedes] locks is putting too many keys on your key ring as pictured. The extra keys add weight and jiggle the key in the switch assembly as you drive. Over time this will wear out the tumblers inside the lock. Get the ring that will allow you to disconnect all your other keys from your Mercedes ignition key. Only drive with one key in your ignition switch!”

One of the lawsuits stemming from a GM ignition failure was filed in Georgia by the family of a pediatric nurse killed in 2010, on her 29th birthday, in the Chevy Cobalt she had bought new in 2005. In the days just prior to the crash, she had taken the car to the dealer because of ignition switch problems. The night of the accident, the young lady was driving 58 mph on a two-lane state road and was wearing her seat belt. Suddenly her ignition switch shut off, causing her to lose control of the vehicle, skid and collide with another car. She was killed and the occupants of the other car were injured. GM settled the lawsuit for a confidential sum last autumn.

If you or a family member has been involved in a motor vehicle accident because of a problem with the ignition switch, contact Indianapolis car accident lawyer Mike Stephenson at 317-825-5200. And whittle down your car key ring until it contains only the one necessary key. Put the house keys, office keys, post office box key, deposit box key, gate key, boat key, and that lucky rabbit foot on a separate key ring.