BY DR. LOUIS ALPERT
This is the first in a series of articles written by Rockland Consumer Advocate Dr. Louis Alpert, former long-time chairman of the Town of Clarkstown’s Consumer Affairs Commission and professor emeritus of mathematics in the CUNY system
This first column of the Ombudsman Alert concerns the vital topic of automobile safety and discusses a specific example which may possibly shed light on the unsolved mystery of the cause of the tragic February 3, 2015 collision of a 2011 Mercedes-Benz SUV with the Metro-North train in Valhalla, New York, which resulted in six deaths and many millions of dollars of property damage. This accident has been termed the “deadliest in the commuter rail line’s 33-year history”.
According to the December 17, 2015 issue of the Journal-News:
“What the 1,000 plus pages of documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board doesn’t provide is a conclusion about the February crash”.
Conspicuously missing from these documents is any mention of a possible defect in the Mercedes-Benz SUV which might have contributed to this accident.
On the contrary, this writer has researched a complete history of documented reports made by owners of Mercedes-Benz SUV’s over the last ten years to the NTSB of “Unintended Acceleration” as the purported cause of their accidents.
To the reader who is unfamiliar with the term “Unintended Acceleration,” its meaning is, simply, the driver’s inability to stop his vehicle when applying his brakes due to a defect that causes his car to accelerate, over-riding the action of his pressing on the brake pedal.
This writer’s first direct source of information on this problem came from an individual who had an accident on April 30, 2014 with his 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 which led to a 3-car collision in Rockland County. He reported this accident to the NTSB as a case of Unintended Acceleration of his vehicle.
Since the NTSB did not provide a satisfactory answer to this complaint, this individual contacted Congresswoman Nita Lowey who promptly replied with an answer that surprisingly stated that she had received the same exact complaint of Unintended Acceleration, one year earlier, in 2013, from another one of her constituents who reported he owned the exact same year and model Mercedes-Benz GLK350!
Congresswoman Lowey immediately sent this individual’s complaint to the NTSB as she had a year earlier in 2013 on behalf of her other constituent. Congresswoman Lowey received no definitive replies from the NTSB other than polite answers that these two complaints would be entered into their database, etc.
Almost immediately, in June of 2014 , several more accidents were reported by Congresswoman Lowey to the NTSB concerning purported Unintended Acceleration of Mercedes-Benz SUV’s. Sadly, an accident of June 4,2014 took the life of a seven-year-old child eating an ice-cream cone in a store whose window was crashed in and several days later a woman driver of a Mercedes-Benz SUV smashed into a brick wall of a CVS store in Mamaroneck, New York.
Within a mere six days Congresswoman Lowey sent two separate letters to the NTSB demanding that look further into these matters of Unintended Acceleration of the Mercedes-Benz SUV’s.
While we must all await the final conclusion of the NTSB’s investigation of the the tragic February 3, 2015 Collision with the Metro-North train, there is a bit of good news to report for the future of auto safety in the United States:
Starting March 30 of this year the NTSB will FINALLY begin to implement a law entitled the SAFETY ACT MANDATE signed into law by the US congress on July 6, 2012. This law requires the Department of Transportation to post all vehicle technical bulletins and any other automaker communications about defects in vehicles regardless whether the defect was of subject of a recall!
This represents a major victory with Ralph Nader’s Center For Auto Safety which filed a lawsuit against Transportation Secretary Foxx, who refused to implement this vital consumer law for nearly four years!
As Nader’s representative in this region, as Chairman of his Congress Watch in the latter part of the 20th century, I have been in close contact with his Center For Auto Safety over the last two years. This writer as well as the readers might wonder about how many lives could have been saved, including those who might have taken by Unintended Acceleration, if this law had been honored when it was first passed in 2012!