Regulators Gearing Up To Take Action On Slow-Moving Takata, Jeep Recall Fixes

After months of expressing concern over the slow-moving pace automobile and parts manufacturers have taken to remedy defects associated with nearly 1.5 million Jeeps that can explode following low-speed rear-end collisions and more than 25 million vehicles equipped with defective, shrapnel-shooting airbags, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is poised to take aggressive action to better ensure the safety of owners of those vehicles. 

Reuters reports that NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind expects the agency to be ready to take action to reduce the safety risks linked to gas tank fires under Jeep vehicles and exploding Takata-produced airbags within the next two weeks.

Rosekind says the any forthcoming action will kick off when staff presents a plan of options for each recall in early May.

“We’re going to look at every option, and we’ll be as aggressive as possible,” he told reporters during a NHTSA conference discussing ways to increase recall effectiveness.

This isn’t the first time Rosekind has talked about taking steps to ensure owner safety regarding the 2013 Fiat Chrysler recall of 1.56 million model year 1993 to 2007 Jeeps.

Earlier this month he said that reopening an investigation into the vehicles after closing an initial inquiry just five months ago was “on the table,” along with other possible actions.

On Tuesday, Rosekind said the pace of remedying the Jeep issue – which has been linked to 75 deaths – has gotten worse.

“The numbers came out, they’re horribly low,” he said. “Those translate into lives at risk, and more lives have been lost and people hurt. That’s unacceptable.”

Last summer, Chrysler reported that only about 8.6% of the 1.56 million Jeeps involved in the initial recall had been fixed. Earlier this month the manufacturer said progress has increased, with nearly 25% of the recalled Jeeps now fixed.

But that’s still not enough progress for regulators, especially when considering the average completion rate for a vehicle recall after a year an a half is 75%.

The agency and Chrysler have been involved in a bit of back-and-forth with regard to more than one million Jeep vehicles with rear-mounted fuel tanks that sit too low and put the vehicle at risk of catching fire if involved in a rear-end explosion.

For nearly three years, Chrysler has maintained that the millions of Jeeps do not have a safety defect. However, safety documents show that the issue has resulted in nearly 75 deaths.

During the summer of 2013, the car manufacturer and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agreed to a remedy for the issue that involved equipping vehicles with a trailer hitch that could reduce the risk of fires.

Officials with Chrysler have said dealers would inspect the recalled Jeeps to determine if there was a need to install the trailer hitch assemblies.

Rosekind was also critical of Takata’s progress in producing replacements for airbags that have been found to explode, sending shards of metal into drivers and passengers of nearly 25 million vehicles. In all, the defective airbags have been linked to 6 deaths and 105 injuries.

After being hit with a $14,000 per day fine from regulators in recent months, Takata has increased its cooperation with NHTSA’s investigation into the airbag defect. The company also announced that it expects to double the number of replacement airbags produced by September.

Increasing the number of vehicles fixed because of defects has been of growing concern for regulators and lawmakers after a record number of vehicles were recalled in 2014.

In March, a group of senators introduced a bill that aims to make sure potentially dangerous vehicles aren’t on the road, by requiring fixes be completed before registration renewals are granted. Owners of vehicles with outstanding recalls would be required to fix the issue before renewing their registration each year.

UPDATE 2-U.S. auto safety regulator poised for action on Takata, Jeep recalls [Reuters]

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