Takata fined for lack of cooperation in air bag recall

Takata fined for lack of cooperation in air bag recall

Six weeks ago, Carlos Solis was killed after a minor fender bender in Houston, Texas. The autopsy revealed a large piece of metal cut through Carlos’ windpipe, severing his jugular vein and carotid artery. It was his air bag, not the accident, that killed him.

At the moment of impact, the air bag deployed and hot shrapnel sliced through it, causing Carlos’ fatal puncture wound. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident. For more than a decade, minor accidents turned deadly after air bags failed to protect vehicle occupants.

The common denominator in all these cases is Takata, one of the world’s leading suppliers of air bags. The first report came from Honda in 2004 after receiving an injury claim involving an exploding inflator. Four years later, Honda reported the defect to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after announcing a recall and conducting an investigation with Takata.

Small recalls from Honda turned into almost 8 million vehicles across 100 models and 10 carmakers at the end of last year after the NHTSA filed a special order. Most recalls are focused in humid areas, but many believe they should be expanded because Takata doesn’t know the exact cause of the problem.

In six years, Takata provided six different explanations, from elevated moisture levels in the propellant to an incorrect part being placed in the air bag. The propellant used to deploy the air bag is ammonium nitrate, a compound most advise isn’t suited for air bag use. The volatile combination is sensitive to high moisture, making it unstable as it cycles through its various states. Over time, the propellant can break down, causing a more violent combustion after ignition during an accident.

Since 2008, almost 17 million vehicles total were recalled due to Takata’s faulty air bags, but only 2 million have been repaired. Ninety percent of owners still drive these vehicles, risking the lives of drivers and occupants.

Because Takata cannot determine the exact cause, automakers are enlisting outside assistance to investigate the faulty Takata air bags. Additionally, more than 20 million parts are needed for repair and many of these companies are seeking parts from other companies to fulfill the need and ensure safety with the drivers. Despite the controversy, Takata continues to use ammonium nitrate.

Like the massive GM recall last year, Takata knew about the issues and failed to take action in a timely manner. As the death and injury tolls continue to rise, the auto part supplier is under increasing scrutiny. Because the company isn’t fully cooperating with the NHTSA’s probe, U.S. regulators issued a $14,000 a day fine.

Issues within the company date back to quality control problems in its Mexico plant, resulting in potential failures and even a fire. Whatever the reason, Takata’s defective air bags are turning minor collisions into fatal car accidents.

To see if your car is included in Takata air bag recall, use the NHTSA’s recall search.

Sources
  • Rob Ammons, “The deadly impact of exploding airbags,” Trial, 16-20, (Feb. 2015).
  • Andy Cerota, “Family files lawsuit against airbag maker in crash death,” Click2Houston (March 4, 2015). [Link]
  • Matt Mercuro, “Takata recall: 90 percent of vehicles remain unrepaired.” Auto World News (Feb. 25, 2015). [Link]
  • David Shepardson, “Carmakers to enlist help in air bag probe,” The Detroit News, (Feb. 24, 2015). [Link]
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