Rollover crashes are a significant and a particularly deadly safety problem. Rollovers are second only to frontal crashes as a source of fatalities in light vehicles. From 2000 to 2009, 47 percent of the occupants killed in rollovers were completely ejected from their vehicle. As a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) established regulations requiring larger, enhanced side curtain airbags that deploy in rollovers to reduce occupant ejection.
Our firm is currently handling a case where a young lady was involved in a rollover accident in a vehicle that was equipped with curtain shield airbags. The airbag over the driver’s side front window did not deploy. As a result, the lady suffered severe head injuries from which she was unable to recover. It is now known that the reason the air bag did not fully deploy was because of a hole created in the air bag during the manufacturing process. This is known as a manufacturing defect.
Most folks are becoming aware that vehicles manufactured and sold in the U.S. are subject to numerous regulations. Some of the regulations are good and some are very weak. But that’s another story. I will focus here on another problem area. Most key occupant protection devices and vehicle safety components, like the side curtain airbags, are actually being manufactured in unregulated foreign countries before being installed in vehicles. U.S. suppliers of safety components have very automated manufacturing systems, which are more expensive but are also more efficient and reliable. Foreign-based suppliers tend to rely more on manual labor because it is cheaper; however, it is also more susceptible to error. In fact, research has shown that manual visual inspection processes are only about 80 percent effective at catching manufacturing defects. Regardless, most highly recognized vehicle manufacturers continue to rely on foreign suppliers.
Foreign suppliers include AUTOLIV, TAKATA, and Toyoda Gosei. AUTOLIV dominates the markets in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, India and South America. TAKATA and Toyoda Gosei are the choices of vehicle brands such as Toyota, BMW, Ford, Chrysler and Volkswagen. For now, although vehicles may be given superb crash test ratings, safety component problems and manufacturing defects will continue to arise as long as the manufacture of vehicle safety components remains unregulated.
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