We have previously written on the very serious issues involving Takata’s exploding airbags. When these air bags inflate on the driver’s side, they send pieces of shrapnel into the driver’s body, causing serious injuries in minor car accidents. These defective air bags have been linked to at least five deaths and numerous injuries.
Takata has been apathetic to the injuries and deaths its air bags are causing. Instead of issuing a nationwide recall, Takata insisted that the recall only cover areas with high humidity. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent a letter to Takata in November, which stated as follows:
Recent information indicates that the unreasonable risk posed by the subject driver’s side air bag inflators may exist outside of the areas with high absolute humidity and therefore would not be mitigated by the current regional recall.
An auto manufacturer may limit the geographic scope of a safety recall only when it can justify with sufficient evidence and data that the limitation is appropriate. Here, Takata has provided no justification for limiting the geographic scope to the high absolute humidity region.
In November, after Takata’s refusal to expand its recall, the U.S. Senate held congressional hearings to investigate the defective air bags. Takata’s Senior Vice President of Global Quality Assurance denied reports that Takata had concealed defects in its air bags before issuing a massive set of recalls beginning in 2008. The executive also admitted that Takata knew about the exploding air bags as early as 2005 but considered the explosion to be an “anomaly” that did not require further investigation. However, the Japanese Ministry of Transport did not consider this defect to be an anomaly and ordered Takata to thoroughly investigate the defect and report to the government. Takata, as usual, felt that it had done enough.
After Takata ignored NHTSA’s first request to expand the recall, NHTSA had no choice but to give Takata an ultimatum. After the agency “tentatively concluded” that Takata’s air bags were not just failing in high-humidity areas (the only areas covered by Takata’s recall), NHTSA commanded that Takata could either expand its recall nationwide, or Takata would be hit with further legal action and civil penalties. NHTSA gave Takata a deadline of Dec. 2, 2014, to make its decision.
On Dec. 2, Takata once again rejected NHTSA’s call for a nationwide recall. A defiant Takata claimed that the evidence did not support a nationwide recall of the air bags. Adding to the tension already existing with NHTSA, Takata said NHTSA did not have the authority to force Takata to expand the recall.
Takata’s defiance leaves auto manufacturers in a very tough situation. The defective air bags are currently in cars made by Ford, Honda, BMW, Chrysler and Mazda. So far, these manufacturers have recalled 14 million vehicles worldwide for Takata airbag problems and will now be forced to either expand their recalls to pick up Takata’s slack, or suffer the consequences if these airbags cause more injuries. As of mid-December, Honda decided to make its recalls nationwide. Just as this issue went to press, Ford announced it is expanding its Takata air bag recall nationwide. Chrysler and BMW have only expanded it’s recalls in areas with high absolute humidity, just as Takata has done.
The battle between Takata and NHTSA is far from over. Currently in a standoff, it remains to be seen how many more deaths and injuries must occur before Takata takes responsibility for its defective product. As for now, auto manufacturers will have to bear the burden of correcting Takata’s mistakes. Ongoing litigation involving the automakers and Takata over the defective and highly dangerous air bags will determine when the automakers first learned of the air bag problems.
Sources: Law360.com and Reuters
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