A new report published by The New York Times casts doubts on how forthright General Motors was with federal regulators over a defective ignition switch that the automaker has linked to 13 deaths over the last 10 years.

The article gives the example of a car crash that killed Gene Erickson along a rural Texas road. The Saturn Ion in which he was traveling swerved into a tree and the airbags failed.

When the question arose as to why the airbags failed, GM told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that it could not provide the answers.

But, just a month earlier, a GM engineer had concluded in an internal evaluation that the Ion had most likely lost power, disabling its airbags. GM’s forthrightness with the authorities is at the heart of a criminal investigation launched by the Justice Department.

Prosecutors are looking into whether the automaker covered up a deadly defect, which has also left many people injured.

Track Record of Evasiveness

The New York Times has obtained a number of documents through the Freedom of Information Act, which show that GM found every possible excuse to stay away from answering critical questions about the ignition defects.

In Erickson’s case, the company repeatedly found a way not to answer the simple question of why the airbags failed and what led to the crash.

In at least three fatal crash cases including Erickson’s, GM said it had not evaluated the cause. In another fatal crash, GM said it did not provide answers due to attorney-client privilege. In other cases, the answer was more curt: “GM opts not to respond.”

These responses or non-responses were provided despite the automaker’s knowledge of the auto defects that led to the fatal crashes.

Need for Accountability

This report by the New York Times is absolutely alarming. It sheds light on how both General Motors and those charged with overseeing the company and the auto industry fell short when it came to protecting the public.

General Motors was clearly not forthright with the authorities and officials failed to be rigorous about the GM inquiries.

GM put profits before people. In the end, it was the consumer who paid the ultimate price. We hope justice is served eventually.

We hope those who were injured and those who lost loved ones at least receive monetary compensation for their losses and that General Motors is held accountable for its reckless disregard for public safety.