General Motors has been hit with a record fine and severely criticised for ignoring potentially deadly faults in some of its vehicles.
The US government has fined the world’s second largest carmaker $35 million (25 million euros) and forced “significant and wide-ranging changes” to its safety culture.
US Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx said: “What we cannot tolerate, what we will never accept, is a person or a company that knows danger exists and say nothing. Literally, silence can kill.”
Foxx added GM was being given the maximum possible fine for breaking the law and failing to meet public safety obligations: “Since at least November 2009, GM has had information linking ignition switch to problems with airbags failing to deploy. They had this information and they told no one.”
In fact GM engineers had discovered the defect as early as 2001.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also been criticised for a slow response to reports of problems.
The Transportation Secretary said the Obama administration wants the ceiling for such fines against carmakers that fail to quickly report safety problems raised to $300 million (219 million euros).
A number of official investigations continue into the timing of GM’s vehicle recalls over the faulty switches which have been linked to at least 13 deaths.
They involve the US Congress, the Department of Justice, the US Securities and Exchange Commission and several states.
GM’s internal probe is also expected to be completed within the next two weeks.
GM confirmed it would pay the fine. “We are working hard to improve our ability to identify and respond to safety issues,” said Jeff Boyer, vice president of Global Vehicle Safety, who is assigned to integrate safety policies across the company.