Citing a report by Senate Commerce Committee staffers, Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., renewed their call today for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to speed up the recall of potentially dangerous Takata airbag inflators. The report said that the airbag manufacturer may have lied to safety regulators for years and may have “falsified data to cover up problems” with its products.
Speaking for the safety agency, NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge responded to the senators by saying NHTSA has “taken unprecedented efforts to address the Takata issue.” He said the efforts included “the first use of the agency’s accelerated remedy authority.” He concluded by saying NHTSA will use “every tool available to make sure every American vehicle has safe airbags.”
Meantime, NHTSA has been busy, Reuters said today. So far this week, NHTSA announced on Monday that it is continuing to probe whether to widen recalls even further than the 29 million devices already under recall. The agency did not hit 29 million until about two weeks ago when it announced an expansion of the number of inflators under recall from 24 to 29 million. The inflators were installed in 24 million vehicles. In an announcement Monday, the agency indicated it was studying whether to expand recalls to as many as 90 million inflators. That could potentially impact as many as 75 million vehicles.
In their statement today, Markey and Blumenthal called the inflators “ticking time bombs” that were “potentially lethal.” The lawmakers also emphasized that Takata had showed “pernicious disregard” for the lives of American motorists.
Meantime, NHTSA cast doubt on the safety of replacement airbag inflators that have been used to repair already-recalled vehicles. NHTSA said that though inflators may be “effective for several years,” they may not remain so “for the full life of your vehicle and therefore may also have to be replaced.”
Apparently responding to the remarks, Takata said that it is “committed to … address[ing] safety concerns with airbag inflators, including through the service life testing of inflators not subject to recall.” The airbag manufacturer has a huge order to fill in this regard. According to a Reuters story on Monday, former managers said, in interviews, there were “chronic” quality failures at Takata’s North American facilities. This allegation was supported by dozens of company emails and in internal company documents that dated back 15 years. Because of the problems, the company and regulators will have a tough time identifying which inflators may be defective. It also means that tens of millions of inflators may pose dangers.
In other related news this week, a coalition of ten automakers that has been working independently to find the cause of the airbag inflator failures announced that three issues made up the cause of airbag failures:
- Ammonium nitrate propellant deterioration
- Inflator design
Without the three working together, inflators were not likely to fail. The coalition is the Independent Testing Coalition.