The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has expanded and accelerated the recall of Takata air bag inflators. The decision followed what the agency says is confirmation of the root cause behind the inflators’ propensity to rupture. As we have written, ruptures of the Takata inflators have been tied to 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the United States. There have been at least two more deaths outside the U.S.
Under the Amended Consent Order issued to Takata, the company is required to make a series of safety defect decisions that will support vehicle manufacturer recall campaigns of an additional estimated 35-40 million inflators, adding to the already 28.8 million inflators previously recalled. These expansions are planned to take place in phases between May of this year and December of 2019. The expansions mean that all Takata ammonium nitrate-based propellant driver and passenger frontal air bag inflators without a chemical drying agent, also known as a desiccant, will be recalled.
The five recall phases are based on prioritization of risk, determined by the age of the inflators and exposure to high humidity and fluctuating high temperatures that accelerate the degradation of the chemical propellant.
NHTSA and its independent expert reviewed the findings of three independent investigations into the Takata air bag ruptures and confirmed the findings on the root cause of inflator ruptures. The agency says a combination of time, environmental moisture and fluctuating high temperatures contribute to the degradation of the ammonium nitrate propellant in the inflators. Such degradation can cause the propellant to burn too quickly, rupturing the inflator module and sending shrapnel through the air bag and into the vehicle occupants.
NHTSA will also consult with affected vehicle manufacturers before revising the Coordinated Remedy Order that governs the accelerated program to obtain and install replacement inflators. The Coordinated Remedy Program will continue to ensure that replacement inflators will be made available to highest-risk vehicles first. The revised Coordinated Remedy Program, to be announced this summer, will detail the updated vehicle prioritization schedule and the schedule by which manufacturers are required to procure a sufficient supply of replacement parts to conduct the required recall repairs. This is the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history.
All vehicle owners should regularly check SaferCar.gov for information about any open safety recall on their vehicle and what they can do to have it fixed free of charge. The recall expansion does not include inflators that include a chemical desiccant that absorbs moisture. There have been no reported ruptures of the desiccated inflators due to propellant degradation.
Takata is required, under the Amended Consent Order, to redirect its research toward the safety of the desiccated inflators. Absent proof that the desiccated inflators are safe, Takata will be required to recall them under the November 2015 Consent Order. As you will recall, NHTSA imposed the largest civil penalty in its history in 2015 for Takata’s violations of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and for the first time used its authority to accelerate recall repairs to millions of affected vehicles. NHTSA also appointed an Independent Monitor to assess, track and report the company’s compliance with the Consent Order and to oversee the Coordinated Remedy Program.
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