The Phony Automakers-Have-Neglected-Safety Narrative

by Henry Payne

Call 2014 the Year of the Phony Media Narrative. The Increased-Cop-Shootings Narrative (not true according to Bureau of Justice stats). The Increase-in-Campus-Rapes Narrative (debunked, same BOJ). The Planet-in-Crisis Narrative.

Add the Automakers-Have-Neglected-Safety Narrative to the list.

“The G.M. crisis has prompted concern in Washington that carmakers have become lax on safety, combative with regulators and insensitive to consumers,” declared a New York Times Page One story December 30 (“Auto Industry Galvanized After Record Recall Year“), culminating a rash of media stories. True enough, GM’s ignition switch crisis led a record year of over 60 million auto recalls this year.

But how to reconcile that record with the fact that traffic fatalities are at a record low? Just 1.1 fatalities per 100 million vehicles miles traveled in 2013, according to the latest federal stats. That’s a 25 percent drop since 2004 and a 75 percent drop since 1970.

Industry insiders say that the high number of recalls are largely a response to media headlines and government scrutiny, not lax safety procedures. Automakers want to reassure customers. The same pattern followed the highly publicized Ford-Firestone tread separation debacle in 2000. Faced with hysteria among government regulators, tort lawyers, and their Washington media megaphone — call it the Washington-Torts-Media Complex — automaker recalls cover mostly minor, non-safety issues (errant sun visors, for example) in order to stay in front of overzealous government regulators and circling trial lawyers.

Though the GM ignition case rightly drew headlines for its related fatalities, GM CEO Mary Barra repeatedly stated that it was an anomaly. She has a case. Indeed, the vehicle at the center of “Switchgate,” the 2007 Chevy Cobalt, had been recalled twice before. The Chevy Silverado pickup was recalled four times in 2007 alone. So much for a culture of cover-up.

Yet the narrative persists in a Washington hothouse where reporters are constantly fed by money-chasing trial lawyers and their Democratic political puppets. Most of these scandals are baseless — take , for example, the infamous Toyota “instant acceleration” that consumed newscasts in 2010. A subsequent NASA study found the charge of electronic accelerator malfunction baseless. The primary cause? Human error.

Yet, here is the Times in its A1 piece sourcing Sean Kane of Safety Research and Strategies, a trial lawyer-funded “safety advocate” who, in 2010, helped rig a Toyota to accelerate out of control for a sham ABC news report. “The only way we are going to get the recall rates to go up is to force the companies to do more,” Kane tells the Times.

As with the Al Sharpton-led killer-cops narrative, if media outlets did more to expose hucksters, there might be less hysteria — and fewer recalls.

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