Honda Needs To Do More About Cars With Explosive Airbags

Image courtesy of NHTSA

Five months ago, tests revealed that each time certain older model Honda and Acura vehicles’ Takata airbags deploy, there’s up to a 50% chance that it will rupture, shooting shrapnel at drivers and passengers. Yet, according to federal safety regulators, more than 300,000 of these vehicles — deemed to be at the most risk for explosions — have yet to be fixed, and that’s a problem. 

Earlier today,  while speaking to the audience at an auto parts supplier conference, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind called on the carmaker to take additional steps to ensure the 313,000 Honda and Acura vehicles are taken off the roads and repaired.

The agency, Rosekind said, has approached Honda about steps it could take to find owners including hiring private investigators, sending notices in different languages, or deploying service trucks to make repairs at customer homes.

“There’s a whole series of things that we want to see,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s just not happening fast enough for anybody.”

In late June, NHTSA urged owners of model year 2001-2002 Honda Civic and Accord, 2002 to 2003 Acura TL, 2002 Honda CR-V, Odyssey, 2003 Honda Pilot, and 2003 Acura CL vehicles not to drive the cars after tests found they could contain a manufacturing defect that greatly increases the potential for a rupture when a crash causes the air bag to deploy.

“With as high as a 50% chance of a dangerous airbag inflator rupture in a crash, these vehicles are unsafe and need to be repaired immediately,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in June. “Folks should not drive these vehicles unless they are going straight to a dealer to have them repaired immediately, free of charge.”

NHTSA said at the time that eight of the 10 confirmed U.S. fatalities due to Takata ruptures occurred in Honda vehicles from this period. There has since been an eleventh death tied to the defective airbags. While that incident involved a Honda vehicle, it’s unclear if it was included in the higher-risk vehicle models.

The agency said in June that Honda was committed to immediately taking additional actions to enhance their efforts to find and fix recalled vehicles.

However, Senators Edward Markey (MA) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) quickly called on Honda to take the strongest possible action to ensure that the vehicles are immediately removed from the road.

In a letter to the carmaker, the lawmakers note that they are “extremely disappointed that Honda does not appear to have taken this important step” to issue a “do not drive” instruction to owners of the affected vehicles.

Despite the need to get the vehicles fixed sooner-rather-than-later, Rosekind told attendees on Wednesday he wasn’t worried about a potential Takata bankruptcy interrupting remedy momentum.

“We feel pretty comfortable knowing that these things are going to get fixed,” Rosekind said referring to bankruptcy law safeguards that ensure recalls are completed.

Concerns that a possible bankruptcy could affect how vehicles are fixed — or who would foot the bill — began last month when it was confirmed that Takata was exploring its options including a sale or filing for bankruptcy.

At the time, Markey and Blumenthal again teamed up to express their concerns in a letter to NHTSA, writing that any bankruptcy or restructuring may “not occur in a manner that prioritizes Takata’s ability to design and deploy safe replacements for the defective airbags over the short-term financial interests of any potential investor or buyer.”

The lawmakers called on the agency to use its authority in bankruptcy proceedings in order to uphold settlements and consent decrees.

Safety chief: Honda must do more to fix dangerous air bags [The Associated Press]

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