By Paul Lienert
DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. safety regulators have recorded 303 deaths involving non-deployment of airbags in 1.6 million compact cars recalled last month by General Motors Co, according to a new study released Thursday night by a safety watchdog group.
GM has said it has reports of 12 deaths in 34 crashes in the recalled cars, which include the 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and 2003-2007 Saturn Ion.
GM did not recall the cars until February, despite learning of problems with the ignition switch in 2001.
The Center for Auto Safety said it referenced crash and fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
General Motors Co said late Thursday that the new report was based on "raw data" and "without rigorous analysis, it is pure speculation to attempt to draw any meaningful conclusions."
Clarence Ditlow, the center's executive director, said, "NHTSA could and should have initiated a defect investigation to determine why airbags were not deploying in Cobalts and Ions in increasing numbers."
NHTSA has been criticized for not pressing GM to recall the cars with defective switches, despite receiving hundreds of consumer complaints in the past 10 years and implementing its own investigations of two fatalities related to the faulty ignition switches.
GM said its investigation into the massive recall and the impact of the defective switch is "ongoing."
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Eric Walsh)