The lead article in today’s New York Times, “G.M. is Fined Over Safety and Called a Lawbreaker,” should only represent a first step in the automaker’s attempt to rectify what has been called a broken vehicle safety record that led to 13 unnecessary deaths. Recalls for 2.5 million vehicles did not occur until years after the safety defect was reported, a defect that could turn off the ignition switch and leave the air bags inoperative in case of a crash.
General Motors will be required to undergo monthly safety evaluations from government regulators and will be forced to pay a fine of $35 million, the maximum allowed by law. Several legislators pledged to raise that limit to $350 million in the future.
General Motors also faces criminal legislation, suits from the Attorneys General of various states, Senate and House investigations and private litigation. While its new President pledged to become an industry leader in vehicle safety, it’s hard to determine how much of that promise is damage control designed to repair the company’s image.
It is uncertain how much else the government can do to bring the wayward company under control. It will be up to the automaker to truly make safety goal one and show more concern for its driving customers. If corporations truly are people, as suggested in recent Supreme Court rulings, then this one requires jail and rehabilitation.