Takata Corporation, the large Japanese air bag manufacturing company evidently sees profits as more important than safety. After all, it is more than ten years after the first fatality caused by the air bag inflator that the company is finally taking action, and as a result of intense government pressure. Consequently from this determination, 11 major car companies are stepping up their action to recall vehicles, whose air bag inflators had exploded, and resulted in, to date, at least six deaths and over 100 injuries. These fatalities are caused when the bag propellant explodes and sends metal fragments flying in the direction of the driver.
This large recall will cover more than 13 percent of all vehicles based in the U.S., and will be the largest since Ford Motor Company recalled 23 million of its vehicles in 1980 due to transmission issues, which was in turn addressed by the placement of a warning sticker on the car. While this has been declared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a major victory, government officials say that the investigation will take several months to complete, as it will require a large amount of due diligence to determine the exact cause of the explosion. In addition, it may take several years to actually replace the defective parts with inflators which have been properly tested.
Takata Corporation’s air bags, as far back as 2002, were declared unsafe, and at the time the company failed to take appropriate measures in addressing the issue. In fact, it was not until 2008, that auto manufacturers, starting with Honda who issued a recall of 4000 vehicles after reporting that three accidents had occurred as a result from airbag ruptures.
Despite these initial recalls, however, Takata Corporation seeing its profits as more important than safety, did address the issue. In December 2009, an explosion in the inflator caused the death of a driver of a 2001 accord, prompting Honda to issue a second recall, this time for 437,000 of its vehicles, that following February 2010. In December 2011, Honda expanded the recall to 613,000 vehicles in order to search for defective Takata Corporation inflators, and in 2012 as a result of three more accidents occurring from the inflators, six more automakers joined in the recall of 3.4 million vehicles, out of them, more than 1 million which were located in the U.S.
After further failing to address the issue, in December 2014 the Takata at a congressional hearing was harshly criticized and as a result, finally agreed to comply with the investigations. Since then, Honda recalled 5.5 million vehicles, and in April, the NHTSA expanded the investigation to include another 12 million vehicles containing air bags, which could possibly be defective. In addition, the NHTSA began imposing daily civil penalties of $14,000 per day on the Takata Corporation for its failure to respond to requests for information.
On Tuesday, however, a consent deal was reached between NHTSA and Takata Corporation to suspend more than $1 million of back fines, as well as to put a stop to future fines, although the company may still receive fines in the near future. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has been optimistic, expressing that this week’s determination is an important step forward in the safety of drivers, however, as many drivers are likely living with the risk of an exploding air bag, Takata Corporation must continue to take decisive action in putting the safety of drivers ahead of profit.
Opinion by Bill Ades
Sources: The Detroit News – Air bag recall expected to be largest in U.S. history
Photo by Manoj Prasad – Flickr License