A tractor-trailer carrying Takata airbag inflators and propellant exploded in August. The driver of the truck failed to negotiate a curve and crashed his vehicle. The resulting explosion was powerful enough to shatter windows and knock doors off the hinges of about 10 nearby homes. Media reports stated that truck parts and rubble were recovered nearly a mile away from the site of the blast in Quemado, Texas. The explosion engulfed the trailer in flames, and set fire to a nearby home and a passing car. Four persons were injured and a 67-year-old woman was killed. The woman was inside her home, which was set on fire by the explosion.
The truck driver and a passenger were able to escape from the truck before the explosion. The tractor-trailer was operated by a subcontractor. The propellant that the tractor-trailer was carrying is a compound called ammonium nitrate, which Takata uses in its airbags. The propellant was being transported from a Takata plant in Washington state to a warehouse in Eagle Pass, Texas, which is about 25 miles away from the site of the explosion.
Takata says that it has been working closely with the subcontractor and the appropriate authorities to investigate the incident. The company also claimed that it “has strict safety procedures relating to the transportation of its products that meet or exceed all regulatory requirements.” As of the time of this writing, the specifics of the truck explosion in Texas are still being investigated.
This explosion comes in the wake of a $200 million civil penalty imposed on Takata by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and a recall of more than 100 million vehicles worldwide due to a dangerous and deadly defect in Takata airbags. This defect centered on the propellant used in Takata airbags – ammonium nitrate – which is the same propellant that was being transported by the tractor-trailer that exploded in Texas.
NHTSA’s analysis of the Takata airbags being recalled, which are used in millions of America’s cars, determined that a combination of time, environmental moisture, and high temperatures led to the ammonium nitrate degrading in the airbag inflators, causing the airbags to explode with excessive force, spraying the passenger compartments of cars with shrapnel. As a result of these explosions, 14 people have died and more than 150 more injured.
Takata has admitted that it failed to alert NHTSA of the defect in its airbag inflators even though the company clearly knew about it. Takata has also admitted that the data submitted to the agency, since at least 2009, concerning the defect was selective, incomplete, or inaccurate. The $200 million civil penalty is the largest that NHTSA has ever imposed.
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