(Add Friedman quotes, background)
WASHINGTON, March 31 The head of the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration defended his agency's
decision not to open a formal investigation into defective
ignition switches in some General Motors cars and pointed
a finger at the automaker for not sharing information with the
In testimony prepared for a congressional hearing on
Tuesday, NHTSA acting Administrator David Friedman said: "GM had
critical information that would have helped identify this
GM has recalled 2.6 million cars to repair a defective
ignition switch that is linked to at least 13 deaths. The
automaker has said it first learned of problems with the part in
2001, before the Saturn Ions, Chevy Cobalts and other recalled
models were even produced.
The Center for Auto Safety and other watchdog groups have
criticized NHTSA for not opening a formal investigation in 2007,
when evidence had mounted of the deadly defect.
But Friedman, who joined the agency last year, said NHTSA
did not have enough data to support a more extensive probe.
"The data available at the time of (the 2007) evaluation did
not indicate a safety defect or defect trend that would warrant
the agency opening a formal investigation," he said.
Friedman said the GM cars that had since been recalled
generally had the same rate of accidents and injuries as similar
vehicles from other manufacturers.
He called the GM probe "a difficult case," but defended his
"We are not aware of any information to suggest that NHTSA
failed to properly carry out its safety mission based on the
data available to it and the process it followed," Friedman
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)