Focus Intensifies on Takata, NHTSA in Ongoing Airbag Crisis | Edmunds

Focus Intensifies on Takata, NHTSA in Ongoing Airbag Crisis


Just the Facts:
  • A U.S. House committee will be briefed this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over its handling of the massive Takata airbag recall.
  • Safety advocates are concerned that more vehicles will be added to the growing recall list.
  • The timeline and scope of the Takata airbag recall will be a major focus for lawmakers and safety officials

WASHINGTON — A U.S. House committee will be briefed this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over its handling of the massive Takata airbag recall.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee announced late last week that it will take a closer look at the increasing number of recalls for defective airbags made by Japanese auto supplier Takata.

"We need to take a close look at this airbag issue and the timeline and scope of the recalls to ensure that the appropriate steps are being taken to protect drivers and their families," said Committee Chairman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican. "I've long said that when it comes to vehicle safety, there can be no margin for error."

NHTSA last week issued an urgent warning to consumers about the potential danger of the defect and advised them to get the cars fixed as quickly as possible. The recall involves 7.8 million airbags by 10 automakers.

The defective Takata airbags may explode metal pieces at vehicle occupants, leading to severe injuries. The potentially defective airbags have been linked to as many as four deaths.

The timeline in the Takata recall will be a major focus for lawmakers and safety experts, along with whether more vehicles should be included in the recall.

"Once again, the agency is in crisis mode, and despite NHTSA's description of the inflator defect recalls as 'going as far back as 18 months ago,' the recall history stretches back eight years, when Honda issued its first recall for Takata 'airbag inflators that could produce excessive internal pressure,'" according to Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., a Rehoboth, Massachusetts firm that specializes in research and analysis on safety matters.

"And the defect history goes back 14 years to April 2000, when according to Recall Notice 13V136, some air bag propellant wafers manufactured between then and September 11, 2002 at Takata's Moses Lake, Washington plant may have been produced with inadequate compaction force."

The timeline put together by Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. concludes that more recalls may be in the works.

"Takata has used the propellant chemistry in the recalled Honda inflators in more than 100,000,000 air bag inflators sold to most major vehicle manufacturers over the past 10 years," it said. 

"This suggests that more recalls are in the offing."

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, warned about the dangers of limiting the recall to high-humidity areas, instead of conducting a nationwide recall of affected vehicles.

In a letter to NHTSA, George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, wrote:

"The recalls were originally focused on vehicles registered in areas with 'high absolute humidity,' but the dangers could be far broader. We believe it is essential to ensure the widest possible public awareness of this hazard, and for NHTSA, automakers, and suppliers to provide consumers with prompt and effective means to address the hazard."

NHTSA also faces questions about the confusion generated last week when a NHTSA Web site designed to help consumers look up their Vehicle Identification Number to check if a particular car has been recalled experienced technical glitches.

A new NHTSA administrator is expected to be nominated within the coming weeks.

NHTSA has been under fire from lawmakers and safety experts for several months in the wake of the Takata airbag and General Motors ignition-switch recalls.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill has questioned whether NHTSA, which oversees vehicle safety in the U.S., is effectively operating as a needed "cop on the beat" when it comes to consumer safety. During a September 16 hearing, McCaskill questioned the agency's failures in safety oversight.

"The GM recall has shown us we still have serious deficiencies in how both automakers and auto safety regulators accomplish the task of ensuring the vehicles on the road are as safe as they can be," McCaskill said.

Edmunds says: More questions remain in the Takata airbag crisis, leading to growing angst on the part of consumers.

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