Government fines GM maximum $35 million in safety case

(AP Photo/Molly Riley)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says “silence can kill,” literally — and that’s why government safety regulators have fined General Motors $35 million.

Foxx says GM broke the law by waiting too long to take action on a problem with ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths.

The penalty is the maximum that the government can impose and it’s the first time an automaker has been fined that much. But the amount is less than a day’s revenue for GM.

As part of an agreement announced today by the Transportation Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM also has agreed to government oversight on safety issues. And it is supposed to report safety problems much more quickly than in the past.

The government has been investigating GM’s delayed recall of 2.6 million older small cars with defective ignition switches. GM has acknowledged knowing that the switches had problems as early as 2001. But it didn’t start recalling the cars until February of this year.

Lawyers suing the company say the death toll from the faulty switches is at least 53.

A consumer safety advocate is hoping a Justice Department investigation will result in a much stiffer penalty. Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety wants a fine of $1 billion or more — along with individual criminal charges against GM engineers and their superiors.

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