The beat of the Takata exploding airbag inflator went on yesterday as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) identified another U.S. death related to the issue. The first death identified since last April, the latest fatality brings to nine worldwide, eight in the U.S.
According to the safety agency, the new death occurred near Pittsburgh, Pa. in July. A teenaged Honda Accord Coupe driver was hospitialized as a result of an accident. The youth died several days after the incident occurred. The teen was driving the 2001 coupe when the airbag inflator ruptured during the crash. While Honda still is seeking to pinpoint a cause, NHTSA believes the cause is likely deteriorating airbag propellant due to moisture. Moisture gets into the ammonium nitrate-based propellant, forcing its degradation. As the propellant degrades, the blast it creates becomes stronger, and the result is that housings shatter.
The youth’s death brings to nine the worldwide total. In all of the cases, the failures have occurred in Honda vehicles. Honda leads in this area due to a glaringly obvious fact, Takata was its sole provider of airbags and their components. That relationship was ended in October by Honda when it ended its relationship with Takata.
In November, NHTSA took action against Takata, fining it $70 million, while postponing up to $130 million more in fines pending the airbag manufacturer’s actions. Part of the settlement with Takata was the naming of an independent monitor to oversee all phases of the recall. According to NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge, the agency has appointed John Buretta, a former member of the Justice Department’s criminal division to monitor the Takata recalls.
Buretta will oversee one of the most complex recalls in auto safety history. Variously, the Takata airbag scandal may affect up to 23 million front airbags in up to 19 million vehicles in the United States. The 19 million vehicles the recall affects make it one of the largest safety recalls in history. Worldwide, the recall may affect as many as 40 million vehicles and a dozen automakers.
November’s enforcement action marks the first time NHTSA has moved to organize and conduct a significant enforcement action on a recall. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated: “For years, Takata has built and sold defective products, refused to acknowledge the defect, and failed to provide full information to NHTSA, its customers or the public … This has been a mess and today DOT is stepping in to clean up the mess.” Foxx made the statement when he announced agency enforcement actions against Takata last month. The move combines an unprecedented attempt to speed up repairs Takata the most at-risk cars by the end of 2017. Takata pledged its full “cooperation and support” for Buretta.
Meantime, two longtime safety advocates, Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., lauded the appointment. However, they also added a dose of reality when they said the appointment was “required because NHTSA has moved too slowly and ineptly for years allowing a patchwork of recalls.” They also want all vehicles with potentially defective airbags recalled.
Meanwhile, in related recall news:
- Trowbridge stated that recall will be expanding by several “hundred thousand” vehicles.
- Trowbridge stated that Honda, Subaru and Mazda would be adding vehicles to the recall list though he did not say exactly how many.
- Trowbridge said that the expanded recall list will include 2005-08 Mazda6 models, 2005-08 Subaru Legacy and Outback models and 2006-08 Honda CR-V crossovers.
- Honda and Takata have settled most of the airbag death lawsuits.
- Honda reportedly chastised Takata about the inflator issue months before the information became public in 2009.