As we have reported the defective Takata airbags are in vehicles made by at least 10 automakers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating whether American Honda Motor Co. failed to report deaths and injuries related to the Takata Corp. air bags. This came shortly after several class action lawsuits were filed against the company over the defective air bags. NHTSA has ordered Honda to answer 38 questions under oath about how it reports the death and injury incidents and claims stemming from the air bags. The questions must be answered by Dec. 15. The investigation by NHTSA is probing the “extent and scope” of the car maker’s alleged failure to report deaths and injuries related to possible auto safety defects as required by the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act (TREAD).
NHTSA issued a special order requiring Honda to document every incident involving air bag ruptures alleged to have occurred and account for known deaths and injuries. It also asked what steps the automaker took to investigate quality control at Takata factories, as well as design standards dating back to 1998 and documents from product-liability lawsuits. The agency said in its order:
NHTSA has received information indicating that American Honda Motor Co. (Honda) failed to report incidents involving Takata airbags, which resulted in a death or injury, and for which claims were asserted against Honda.
Under the TREAD Act, car manufacturers must submit early warning reports including information on each death or injury from possible safety defects to the NHTSA every quarter. The investigation seeks information about Honda’s reporting procedures and how it plans to comply with the TREAD Act. NHTSA says that it “is also concerned that Honda’s reporting failures go beyond the Takata incidents described above.”
The investigation follows lawsuits filed in Florida and California federal courts against Takata and a number of automakers, including Honda. Those suits were the first class actions stemming from a 2013 recall of defective air bags. More than 14 million vehicles equipped with air bags supplied by Takata have been recalled worldwide because of a defect that causes the air bags to explode in humid conditions, with the majority of these recalls coming just in the past years.
The manufacturing defect in the air bags dates back to at least April 2000, Takata actually became aware of it as early as 2001, when it issued its first recall relating to the exploding air bags in Isuzu vehicles. Instead of protecting car passengers in a crash, the defective air bags explode and expel “lethal amounts of metal debris and shrapnel.” The automakers knew of the defect as early as 2008, when Honda first notified regulators of a problem with its Takata air bags. Instead, the automakers and Takata opted to not address the issue, leading to a number of deaths caused by from the defect. It was alleged in the Florida complaint:
Despite this shocking record, both Takata and Honda have been slow to report the full extent of the danger to drivers and passengers and failed to issue appropriate recalls. Both Honda and Takata provided contradictory and inconsistent explanations to regulators for the defects in Takata’s airbags, leading to more confusion and delay.
Honda opened a third-party investigation into claims that the automaker had under-reported injuries and fatalities stemming from defects in Takata’s air bags. That action by the automaker came on the very same day a watchdog recommended the U.S. Department of Justice investigate Honda’s reporting practices.
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