NHTSA Pushes For National Recall Of Takata Airbags

In the past year, nearly 10 million vehicles have been recalled in areas of high humidity – generally the southern United States – related to defective Takata-produced airbags. That number could increase significantly now that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has urged the Japanese auto parts maker and car manufacturers to expand the recall to cover the entire United States.

On Tuesday, NHTSA called for a national recall of vehicles with certain driver’s side frontal airbags made by Takata.

Officials with the agency say the decision to call for an expanded recall was based on NHTSA’s evaluation of a recent driver’s side airbag failure in a vehicle outside the current regional recall area.

Reuters reports the incident involved a 2007 Ford Mustang in North Carolina. Investigators with NHTSA say that all other incidents of Takata airbag ruptures have occurred in areas of the regional recall.

Regulators believe that issues with the airbags have been caused by the presence of moisture, which led automakers to initiate recalls in areas of high humidity such as southern Florida, along the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa.

Based on the new information, unless Takata and the ten manufacturers that use its airbags quickly agree to the national recall, NHTSA officials say they will use the full extent of the agency’s statutory powers to ensure vehicles that use the same or similar airbags inflators are recalled.

As part of NHTSA ongoing investigation into the defective airbags, the agency issued a General Order to Takata and all 10 vehicle manufacturers – BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota – requiring them to file, under oath, a detailed report and produce all related documents about completed, ongoing or planned testing of Takata inflators outside the current regional recall area.

“The agency is demanding this information to compel Takata and the affected industry to be frank with not only NHTSA, but the American public, as to what testing and additional steps they have done and plan to do to control and mitigate the risk associated with Takata’s defective inflators,” a statement from NHTSA reads.

Reuters reports that officials with Honda, Ford, Mazda, and Chrysler have said they would continue to cooperate with NHTSA and plan to evaluate their call for a national recall.

However, each company stopped short os saying they would expand bend the current set of cars they are fixing. Reuters reports that BMW’s initial recall was already of national scope.

A spokesperson for Takata tells Reuters that the company will cooperate with regulators and automakers if a national recall is required, but that of the “almost 1,000 passenger and driver inflators from outside the high humidity areas that have been evaluated to date, none have ruptured.”

“Takata is concerned that a national recall could potentially divert replacement air bags from where they’re needed, putting lives at risk,” the company said in a statement.

In addition to the request for documents and an expanded recall, NHTSA issued a Special Order to Takata – the second regarding the defective airbags – asking the company to provide documents and detailed information related to the propellant used in the inflators.

It was previously reported that Takata uses an unusual chemical explosive – ammonium nitrate – for the chemical’s ability to make airbags inflate in a matter of milliseconds. Since then the company notified NHTSA of a change in its chemical compound.

Officials with NHTSA say they want to analyze the information received from Takata regarding the chemical to determine if its composition may be the cause or a contributing factor to the airbag inflator ruptures.

Legislators who previously criticized NHTSA for their allowance of regional recalls and called for a criminal investigation into Takata say the new push is welcomed, but may not be large enough in scope.

Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts tell Reuters that NHTSA’s call should also include replacement of passenger side airbags, as well as the driver’s side airbags.

Earlier this month the lawmakers called on the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into Takata after news revealed the company secretly tested airbags four years before the first recall was announced.

“Reports that Takata concealed and destroyed test results revealing fatal air bag defects, along with other evidence that the company was aware of these deadly problems, clearly require a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice,” Blumenthal and Markey say in a news release. “If the reports are true, the company must be held accountable for the horrific deaths and injuries that its wrongdoing caused. These allegations are credible and shocking — plainly warranting a prompt and aggressive criminal probe.”

Legislators will have their chance to grill Takata executives and officials from several car manufacturers during a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing tomorrow afternoon.

USDOT Calls for National Recall of Defective Takata Driver Side Air Bags [NHTSA]
U.S. auto regulator seeks nationwide recall of Takata air bags [Reuters]

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