250,000 cars may have lethal design flaws

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The Independent Online

The number of cars with potentially fatal design faults has reached record levels. Manufacturers recalled more than 1.5 million last year with problems that could have led to serious injury or death.

The number of cars with potentially fatal design faults has reached record levels. Manufacturers recalled more than 1.5 million last year with problems that could have led to serious injury or death.

The figures for the 12 months to last December, compiled by the Vehicle Inspectorate, a government agency, are the highest ever and 200,000 more than the figure for the previous year.

No one knows how many people are injured or killed by such vehicles because the Government does not record such figures, but on average only 84 per cent of owners respond to recall notices and have their cars examined, suggesting that there could be up to 248,900 potentially lethal cars on our roads.

George Stevenson MP, a member of the House of Commons transport subcommittee, said the figures were "worrying" and promised to raise the issue in parliament.

In a letter to Mr Stevenson from David Jamieson, a junior transport minister, the Government claims "the overall response rate is actually much higher" than 84 per cent because some vehicles in the recall may have been stolen, written off, exported or scrapped; but it admits that the inspectorate is "investigating a number of initiatives to improve response rates and [has] an aspirational target of an overall 90 per cent response by 2005".

Mr Stevenson said: "These new figures show that the situation is getting worse. But I am satisfied that the Government is aware of the issue and I am encouraged by the undertaking that the minister is looking at it."

Nigel Wonnacott, spokesman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said the figures were at record levels because manufacturers were resorting to recalls more than ever – 112 last year compared with 89 in 2000.

"Manufacturers are increasingly confident that the recall system is the best way to get potential concerns sorted out," he said. "There were very few fatalities or injuries last year involving vehicles subject to a recall."

He was unable to provide any figures to support this assertion but denied that there were record numbers of dangerous cars on the road. "That is absolutely not true. Manufacturers may be concerned over 20 vehicles in a range of 20,000 but will recall all of them. It does not mean there are 20,000 dangerous vehicles on the road."

Mr Wonnacott would not reveal where the majority of the faulty cars were made.

The Vehicle Inspectorate and car manufacturers operate a voluntary code on recalls. It defines a safety defect as "a feature of design or construction liable to cause significant risk of personal injury or death".

Top five recalls

Vauxhall Corsa 586,538 recalled for faulty front-seat adjuster rails

BMW 3 Series 250,520 recalled for faulty steering ball joints

Vauxhall Corsa 116,176 recalled for faulty seatbelt latching mechanism

Renault Clio 105,883 recalled for faulty accelerator cable

Fiat Punto 75,000 recalled for corrosion of metal brake pipe

Source: Vehicle Inspectorate

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