Most of the time, when properly maintained and properly handled, automobiles are incredibly safe. But what happens when the operator does everything correct and the car still malfunctions? It can be deadly.
Take the tragic and horrible case of the Saylor family. The Saylors were traveling on the freeway near Sandiego, CA when the accelerator on their rented Lexus got stuck and they were unable to brake or slow down in any way. They called 911, but there was nothing that could be down, the car eventually careened out of control and off the road into a ravine. Mark Saylor, who was driving, his wife, Cleofe, and their 13-year-old daughter Mahala died. The 911 call from inside the car came from Cleofe's brother, Chris Lastrella, who was also killed.
Below is the 911 call, but be warned, it may be disturbing to some readers.
One of the most famous cases of manufacturers missing a deadly flaw was from General Motors. For 10 years, GM ignored reports of faulty ignition switches that would stall the cars while they were underway. Finally, GM couldn't ignore it anymore when 29-year-old Brooke Melton's car careened out of control and into a creek, killing her. It happened just three days after she had taken her car to the dealership to get fixed when the same thing happened before. Finally, GM recalled over 2.6 million cars to fix the deadly problem.
Quite possibly the worst manufacturer's malfunction in history were the infamous Takata airbags. The issue dragged on for years and more than 24 million cars built over 13 years from 2002 until 2015, over a wide swatch of brands, including all the major maker and even luxury brands like Ferarri have been recalled. This has been called the largest recall in U.S. history. At least 10 people have been killed by the poorly manufactured airbags over the years and in the end, it finally drove the company that made them, Takata, out of business. Below is a short video of what happens when the airbags malfunctioned.
The notorious Ford Pinto. There is no other brand that brings derision. The gas tank, mounted too close to the rear of the car, became notorious for exploding upon impact if a Pinto got rear-ended. As many as 187 people might have been killed because of the design and two of the most important consumer protection lawsuits were a result of a couple of those deaths. Ford deservedly took it on the chin as they cynically decided that the cost to fix the problem was less than the potential cost in litigation. For shame.
While the Pinto became notorious and the impact of the memo and the trials on consumer protection laws cannot be understated, subsequent analysis has shown the Pinto to be no more dangerous than other cars in its class.