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U.S. DROPS CASE AGAINST GM AS AUTOMAKER AGREES TO SPEND MILLIONS ON SAFETY, RESEARCH

SHARE U.S. DROPS CASE AGAINST GM AS AUTOMAKER AGREES TO SPEND MILLIONS ON SAFETY, RESEARCH

The government agreed Friday to drop its case against General Motors pickup trucks, accepting a deal in which GM will spend more than $51 million on safety and research programs.

Transportation Secretary Federico Pena announced the agreement at a news conference in Washington.He said the idea behind the deal is that the safety and research programs GM will finance will begin saving lives immediately.

"Proceeding with the recall process would have taken years in court," Pena said. "During all that time, the trucks subject to this investigation would have remained on our highways."

He described the agreement as "a common-sense outcome and a victory for safety and saving lives."

About 9 million of the trucks were built between model years 1973 and 1987 and sold under Chevrolet and GMC nameplates. GM estimates about 5 million still are in use.

Pena announced Oct. 17 that he had concluded that the trucks present an unreasonable risk of fire in side-impact collisions because their fuel tanks are mounted outside the vehicle frame. Pena said the fuel-tank design resulted in fires that killed 150 people in crashes that otherwise would have been survivable.

He scheduled a public meeting, set for Tuesday in Washington, to gather more information on whether he should order a recall.

The deal cancels the meeting, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Transportation Department will not proceed with further steps toward a recall.

GM never wavered in its argument that the trucks are among the safest vehicles on the road. NHTSA began investigating them two years ago after consumer groups petitioned for a recall.

Pena acknowledged in October that the trucks meet federal crash safety standards, but he said the law requires that they be safe in real-world conditions as well.

GM filed suit last month seeking to block any further action by him in the case. Pena said that case would be dismissed as part of the settlement.