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GM CEO undermines global campaign to end preventable deaths caused by unsafe cars

21 January 2016

Consumers International has challenged General Motors’ (GM) CEO, following her comments in Davos this week which suggest GM is prepared to gamble with lives by not providing basic safety equipment in cars in some countries. 

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General Motors CEO Mary Barra said that:“[t]here’s many cases where we are well above standards, but we also have to look at affordability otherwise you cut people out of even having the availability of transportation”.

This seems to imply that affordability issues were a consideration for car companies, such as GM, in not fitting airbags in cars sold in countries like Mexico and India. However, the Global New Car Assessment Programme has indicated that fitting basic safety features can cost as little as US $200 per vehicle.

The comments in Davos were made following letters sent by Consumers International and consumer organisations in the US and other countries around this issue late last year.

Towards the end of Mary Barra’s comments she is quoted as saying: “who is [to] say which government is right (in) the commonization of safety standards”. This ignores the clear recommendations agreed by 70 Ministers from around the world at the 2nd Global High Level Meeting on Road Safety held in Brasilia on 18-19 November, which adopted a Declaration calling for mandatory use of airbags and other life-saving measures.

Amanda Long, Director General of Consumers International said:

“Airbags in all cars should be standard, anywhere in the world. All lives are precious, and airbags save lives, so to not include them because of a cost argument is irresponsible.”

“In a global marketplace we need global standards – it is outrageous to not only gamble with lives – because that is what is at the crux of this – but to value consumers so little that the basic minimum safety features are not provided in all new cars.”

“We are seeing cars produced for low and middle-income markets without basic safety features such as airbags. Now we are hearing a Chief Executive of a leading global car manufacturer justifying this practice instead of standing up for safety.”

“We need governments to adopt UN vehicle safety regulations, or equivalent national standards, and for manufacturers to apply these standards voluntarily. This will dramatically reduce the number of people who are dying and being injured on our roads because of unsafe cars.”

Road crashes kill 1.3 million people a year and 50 million people were injured on our roads in 2013. Unsafe cars are a major contributor to this statistic; 50% of those affected were vehicle occupants.

Traffic fatalities are the ninth leading cause of death around the world with the vast majority of this burden falling on low and middle-income countries.

Consumers International announced they had joined the #STOPTHECRASH partnership earlier this week to campaign for crucial safety technology to be installed as standard in all new vehicles, regardless of where they’re produced or sold.