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Lawsuit claims seat belt, airbag calibration defect plagues GM trucks and SUVs

Earlier this month, General Motors was hit with allegations over a potential defect in scores of its vehicles. According to the lawsuit, several truck and SUV models manufactured after 2009 suffer from a defect that can prevent the seat belts from tightening and the airbags from deploying in certain types of crashes.

The 164-page lawsuit says the alleged defect stems from the sensing and diagnostic module (SDM) within each affected vehicle’s airbag control unit. The SDM, a small computer connected to sensors throughout the vehicle, is responsible for detecting irregular behavior and firing the airbags and tightening the seat belts during a crash, the suit relays.

According to the complaint, however, the software that controls an affected vehicle’s SDM was calibrated by GM to prevent airbag and seat belt deployment just 45 milliseconds after a crash has begun. This means a truck or SUV’s airbag may not deploy and seat belts may not tighten in real-world accidents that last longer than 45 milliseconds – such as those that involve multiple impacts or increase in severity, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by eight plaintiffs in Michigan on August 5.

An example of an accident in which a GM truck or SUV’s airbag and/or seat belts might not deploy, the suit explains, is one in which a vehicle first hits a curb or speed bump before crashing into a tree or other car.

Publicly available consumer complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration detail more than 800 instances in which airbags and/or seat belts “suspiciously” failed in affected GM vehicles during frontal crashes, the lawsuit continues. Per the case, many of these reports allege GM “knew about and investigated the crash after the reported airbag failures.” A separate NHTSA dataset indicates that nearly 1,300 people from 1999 through the present were killed or injured in a frontal collision in which the airbags of their GM vehicle did not deploy, the complaint says. Learn more about the allegations here.

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