14th crash death linked to exploding Takata airbag inflator

The 14th death related to an exploding Takata-made airbag inflator occurred Saturday in Malaysia. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., demonstrates a similar device at a hearing last year before a Senate panel in Washington, D.C

Honda confirmed Monday that the death of a 44-year-old woman in Malaysia was the 14th related to faulty Takata-made airbag inflators. Although the investigation by Malaysian authorities is continuing, the automaker said that the driver, who died at the scene of a crash in which the driver-side airbag ruptured, was found with severe injuries to her chest. The cause of the injuries was apparently related to a metal piece that was found protruding from the center of the steering wheel of her 2005 Honda City.

The crash that occurred Saturday is the third that Malaysian authorities are investigating in relation to failing Takata-made airbag inflators so far this year.

According to the automaker, the 2005 City was subject to recall in May 2015 which required the replacement of the airbag inflators in both the driver-side and passenger-side airbag devices. Honda said that it had mailed three recall notices to the owner of the vehicle. However, according to company records, the repairs had never been completed. Honda, which is engaged in ongoing recalls, has also recalled Accords and Civics, in addition to the City.

The recalls this year have included vehicles and the inflators installed in them. The total number of airbag inflators called back in the continuing Takata airbag fiasco has reached nearly 70 million worldwide. It will likely top out at more than 100 million, possibly as many as 200 million when the program ends. In the United States, inflator recalls are approaching 40 million. The total number of recalled devices may exceed 90 million in three years when the program ends.

According to Honda, the automaker confirmed with Malay police, following an inspection, that the airbag inflator that had ruptured in the crash was a single-stage device. So far, more than 100 injuries, some severe, and 13 deaths have been linked to the faulty airbag inflators. Multiple investigations have shown that the cause of the failure is the airbag propellant, ammonium nitrate. Takata is the only airbag manufacturer still using the particular propellant.

The probes have found that exposure to high humidity and temperatures cause the propellant to deteriorate. As it deteriorates, the propellant explodes with more force, causing the inflator housing to burst, sending shards throughout the interior, potentially mowing down anything in its way. Takata claims that when the propellant is used with a desiccant, it remains stable. The inflators that have exploded so far have not used the desiccant.

Honda said that the police had not issued an official ruling as to the cause of death as the investigation was continuing. Malay authorities are also continuing their investigations into two crashes earlier this year in which airbag failures may have contributed deaths. Specifically, officials are looking at the driver-side airbag inflators.

Sources: Automotive News, Reuters, thecarconnection.com

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