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NHTSA probes air bag software on older Chevrolet Impalas

The Chevrolet logo is seen before the New York Auto Show in New York April 15, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Paul Lienert

DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. safety regulators are investigating the potential for air bags to fail because of software issues in older Chevrolet Impala sedans made by General Motors Co (GM.N), after receiving a consumer complaint about an alleged incident in Texas.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday that it has opened a probe into about 320,000 Impalas from model year 2008, but would also look at 2007 and 2009 models.

GM has recalled nearly 15 million vehicles this year, including the Impala, for ignition switch issues that could cause air bags to fail in a crash.

One of the recalls, in June, included Impalas from model years 2006-2014. In a July 2 letter to NHTSA, GM said a heavy key ring on those cars could pull the ignition key out of the run position, which could shut off the engine and cut power to steering and air bags.

NHTSA's new investigation of the 2008 Impala involved a separate issue. It was in response to a November 2013 petition by Donald Friedman, a principal in a California research firm and an expert witness in product liability litigation, on behalf of an elderly couple involved in a crash of a 2008 Impala in Texas.

After receiving additional information this year from Friedman and reviewing its own crash databases, NHTSA said it opened the probe "in an abundance of caution."

Friedman asked NHTSA specifically to investigate the software that controls passenger-side air bag deployment in a crash on all 2004-2010 GM models.

In the Texas crash, the driver's air bag deployed, but the front passenger's did not. Both occupants were injured, according to Friedman's complaint.

(Reporting by Paul Lienert; Editing by Frances Kerry)