60,000 Automobile Airbags are “TICKING TIME BOMBS”
Ten years after the biggest safety recall in U.S. history began, Honda says there are more than 60,000 vehicles on the nation’s roads equipped with what experts have called a “ticking time bomb” — defective air bags like the one that killed 26 year old Jewel Brangman, an academic all-American in high school who was about to pursue a PhD at Stanford. She had no need to know much about the rental car she drove north toward Los Angeles on a sunny September Sunday almost four years ago. She was involved in a relatively minor crash — she rear-ended a minivan — and her air bag exploded with a spray of razor-sharp metal shards that severed her carotid artery.
Takata air bags, which sit about a foot from a driver’s chest, have a 50-50 chance of exploding in a fender bender.
They are the most deadly air bags remaining in the recall involving more than 37 million vehicles built by 19 automakers. At least 22 people worldwide have been killed and hundreds more permanently disfigured when the air bags that deployed to protect them instead exploded and sprayed shrapnel.
The worst among the bad bags are known as Alphas, driver-side air bags installed in Hondas that have up to a 50 percent chance they will explode on impact. The 62,307 people still driving with them, many in older-model cars that may have changed hands several times, either have ignored the recall warnings or never received them, Honda said.
With the number of deaths and disfigurements continuing to climb — the last fatality was in January — automakers and federal regulators have rewritten the rule book in their outreach efforts, including deploying teams to knock on doors of Honda owners who have not responded to recall notices.
The massive recall of air bag inflaters made by Takata — which allegedly suppressed tests revealing the flaw and where three key executives are under federal indictment — is well known to Congress and millions of Americans who have been touched by it. But tens of thousands of drivers most at risk remain oblivious to the efforts of automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“Our last hearing on the ongoing Takata fiasco is just further evidence that NHTSA is just rudderless,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), ranking Democrat on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. “The latest data the committee has received from the automakers shows that individual automaker recall completion rates are all over the place — and millions are still waiting for replacement air bags.”
After a 2002 Honda Accord air bag exploded in Alabama in 2004, Takata assured Honda that the incident was an anomaly. But at the same time Takata began testing 50 air-bag inflaters it had collected from junkyards. Even though two of them malfunctioned, Takata shut down the testing and told technicians to wipe the data from their computers, the New York Times reported. The company denied to Congress that it had ever done the testing.
Years later, NHTSA said Takata was not “being forthcoming with information” or cooperating with the “investigation of a potentially serious safety defect.”
The Justice Department fined Takata $1 billion for that failure.