Again The NY Times had the scoop ahead of TPV: Auto Regulators Dismissed Defect Tied to 13 Deaths. But it was up to Marquel, TPVs Times correspond
The 13 people killed by GM cars whose motors suddenly turned off on thruways and highways had no voice in that assessment. At least not as much as GM had during the past ten years when hundreds of people complained that their cars would suddenly and without warning, simply turn off.
When Marquel visited the national transportation safety board, he was sent to a Secretary. Miffed, he decided not to even talk to her. But he realized that she could know more than others and be less cautious about revealing it. She also was a double for his high school squeeze.
“So,” he started, “how do you explain regular complaints over a decade and yet nothing was investigated?”
“Well there’s an easy answer,” she said, “and a less easy one.”
“Can you tell me the easy one?” I asked.
“Sure” she said, “it’s actually kind of funny.” She pushed some papers towards me, saying, “these are the intake papers.”
I leafed through the form. It was pretty typically bureaucratic. After the information sheet about names, addresses, car make and model, were a series off diagnostic symptoms that could be checked off. There was one for a car not starting, for a car not turning off, for a car driving on it’s own, not stopping, not turning when you want or turning when you don’t, and many others, followed by a section on damages including death, and then an open box labelled “other,” for symptoms or damages not listed. I looked up.
I couldn’t believe how much she resembled my old squeeze. Luscious and young. “Notice anything?” She asked. I was going to say “nothing but you” but I just shook my head no.
“Nothing at all?” She repeated. I nodded again.
“There’s no category,” she said, “for car turning off. All sorts of things for cars starting accidentally, for cars NOT starting, but nothing for cars stopping! I think they figured if a car stops that’s a good thing, nobody gets hurt. The form’s about forty years old.”
“So you’re saying there’s no category so no reports were submitted?” I asked.
“No no no,” she said. “There were reports but everybody’s too lazy to fill out the “other” box. Instead they’d fill out some other symptom, something minor, and it would get filed by that. So for ten years there was no consistent report of the problem.”
“You sound like you know this agency” I said, remembering prom night.
“I’m actually a political science major at GW. This is an internship. Or externship.” She said.
“Lucky me,” I said, thinking things I shouldn’t. But she WAS the spitting image…. I got back on track and asked, “So what about the less easy explanation?”
“Aha,” she said, “that’s where it gets interesting. From a poli sci point of view. You know the revolving door syndrome?”
“Of course,” I said, looking at her dreamily, willing to say yes to anything she said. But I am familiar with the concept where agencies lose their independence because of too close contact with their clients. Agency members get jobs with the clients, clients get jobs with the agency, etc. It’s a clear path to corruption through that revolving door. I’d like to be in a revolving door with her,I found myself thinking and immediately gave myself a mental slap.
“Well right now we have two former members of GM on our staff doing investigations, one of our former staff now works for GM, and another is moving over soon” she said rather angrily.
“So you think that GM got a pass on potentially fatal defects because they have illegitimate influence at the NTSB?” I asked.
“Well it’s not normal,” she said, “for someone to investigate himself is it?”
“Certainly not,” I said, trying to get her to smile. “But aren’t there rules not letting them work on matters involving their former employer for a couple of years?”
“Are you serious?” She asked and I felt like saying ,”certainly not,” but I held my tongue. “Do you think they forget their former employer in two years? If they’re thinking of returning some day are they likely to forget? Most importantly,” she went on with the most determined face that I found absolutely delightful, “If they only work on Chrysler or Ford, do you think they’re not in a position to help out GM in all sorts of way, if only by being more demanding of the competitors?”
“You seem really angry” I said.
“Well I do sometimes think it should be called the National Transportation Corruption Board.” She said, as cute as could be.
“So what should we do?” I asked.
“Well personally,” she offered, “I think before they move here or there they should be shot once in the head. If that doesn’t work, another shot until all their vital signs are flat. That would cure the problem”
“You sound like you don’t really like it here.” I suggested.
“You mean here the agency or here the U.S.?” She asked, “I hate the U.S.”
I was in love! “You should run for president,” I said.
“Huh?” she asked.
“It would be good for a president to hate America instead blindly worship it.” I said.
“Maybe I should get my degree first,” she said.
“Want to get coffee?” I asked.
“Sure. Do you have a family?” She asked.
A strange question. But I nodded.
“Would coffee be okay?” She asked.
I dialed home and explained. I was told at my age a little excitement could only help. But then I realized with permission granted it wasn’t all that exciting. Even more of a downer was that it sounded like some sort of geriatric treatment. So I told her maybe some other time. After she gets her degree.
“Sure thing,” she said, as cute as a button.
For more auto and voluntary regulations, follow Marquel on Twitter @MarquelatTPV.