A deepening crisis involving deadly airbags has shaken confidence in the ability of automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., to ensure the safety of millions of U.S. drivers. When you consider that Toyota has advised owners of these vehicles to keep passengers out of front seats until defective Takata Corp. airbag parts are replaced, the magnitude of the problem is made very clear. This comes months after Toyota did the very same thing in Japan.
Takata faces investigations into whether exploding shrapnel from its flawed parts is to blame for at least four deaths involving vehicles made by Honda, including a Florida crash that was initially investigated as a homicide because of deep gashes to the victim’s neck. The ever-increasing number of airbag recalls is a clear indication that automakers are not addressing defects quickly and comprehensively. NHTSA’s failure to adequate monitor the industry has become quite apparent. The sudden acceleration and ignition switch recalls at Toyota and GM are prime examples of defects being addressed in a dilatory manner. The fact that these two defects were actually hidden from the public and NHTSA for years is appalling. Currently, Honda is under separate probes about whether it under-reported fatalities and injuries in the U.S.
I fear that the consequences from the airbag safety issues are going to get much worse. There have been recalls of at least 4.7 million vehicles in the U.S. during the last two years associated with the Takata airbags. In addition to Toyota and Honda, the recalls also involve Nissan Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp., Mitsubishi, Subaru, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW), Chrysler, Ford and GM. At press time, none of the other automakers had yet to follow Toyota in issuing warnings against sitting in front-passenger seats, but they may be forced to do if they fail to do so voluntarily. Toyota extended the approach it had taken in Japan to the U.S. after Takata shared data that showed the inflators sent back to the supplier as part of its customers’ recalls were performing improperly.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, recalled 247,000 vehicles last month, including some models of the Toyota Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia and Tundra, made from 2001 to 2004. Most of the vehicles were subject to recalls by Toyota in June this year or May 2013, according to a U.S. spokesman for the company.
To put the hazards created and the obvious dangers involved in perspective, NHTSA issued a statement on Oct. 22 telling owners to “act immediately on recall notices to replace defective Takata airbags,” adding there should be particular urgency in areas of high humidity such as Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Honda says it’s still examining airbag inflators that have been replaced as part of its recalls of 2.8 million vehicles in the U.S. tied to Takata air bags the past two years. Honda is Takata’s biggest customer and has called back 6 million vehicles for problems with airbags in nine recalls since 2008. Incidentally, the carmaker owns 1.2 percent of Tokyo-based Takata.
While Takata is at the center of the U.S. government’s airbag investigation, NHTSA also is probing how the car companies responded to defects with the airbags supplied as components. The Center for Auto Safety, a watchdog group in the U.S., has accused Honda of failing to report all airbag-related injuries and deaths to a government database as required. The Center has called for the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation into Honda’s reporting practices.
Honda had asked a third party to begin an audit in September of potential inaccuracies in the quarterly Early Warning Reports the automaker is required to file to NHTSA. Honda said in an Oct. 16 statement that it will “soon” share results of the audit with the regulator. We are aware of one death in Florida involving the airbags in Honda Accord. We are told there have been at least two similar incidents involving Honda vehicles. Honda said on Oct. 16 that it’s also examining whether a faulty airbag was to blame for the death of a man who crashed his Acura sedan in a California parking lot.
This airbag safety crisis is far from over. It’s important for folks to find out if their cars have defective airbags. Motorists wondering whether their cars are subject to a recall can type their vehicle identification numbers into the government’s website, www.safercar.gov. I encourage each of our readers to do so.
Source: Claims Journal
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