Airbag recall may expand by 5 million vehicles as 10th fatality reported

The death of a 10th driver last month in South Carolina may cause an expansion of the Takata airbag recall. A spokeman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that 5 million vehicles may be added.

The number of drivers killed by exploding Takata airbag inflator materials has climbed to nine in the U.S. and 10 worldwide, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed today. In a conference call with reporters, Gordon Trowbridge, spokesman for the safety agency, said a South Carolina pickup truck driver was killed last month when an airbag inflator shattered, sending shards scything through the cab of the 2006 Ford Ranger pickup he was driving. Spokesmen for Ford and Takata were unavailable for comment.

The December fatality may add as many as 5 million vehicles to the 19 million already involved in airbag-related recalls in the U.S. Of the 5 million vehicles, 1 million use the same style airbag inflator as those already recalled. The other 4 million vehicles use a different type of inflator. That inflator was found to have failed three times in recent tests of the Toyota RAV4, according to USA Today. Other vehicles also involved in the testing included:

  • Ford
  • Volkswagen
  • Audi
  • Mercedes-Benz.

It was the first airbag-related fatality that took place in a vehicle other than a Honda, and it may add as many as 5 million vehicles to the 19 million already involved in recalls. Trowbridge, discussing the accident and testing with reporters, said that before the agency had received news of the fatality, 1,900 inflators had been successfully tested.

Trowbridge emphasized that the estimate of the number of vehicles involved in the expanded recalls was preliminary. He acknowledged there might be some overlap with vehicles already under recall of passenger-side airbags. He also indicated that the latest fatality is a “sad reminder” of the “immense scope of this problem and why we need to take unprecedented steps to resolve it.”

The NHTSA spokesman also indicated that there could be a further expansion of the number of vehicles involved if Takata can’t prove that its ammonium nitrate-based propellant isn’t the cause of the defect. He indicated that the number of cars and trucks added to the recall could be in the “tens of millions.”

So far, the pace of the overall airbag recall has been slow. The two key reasons have been:

  • Because replacement airbag inflators have not been readily available
  • That many vehicle owners have ignored recall notices

As of late December, 27 percent of U.S. vehicle owners involved in the Takata recall for driver-side airbags have had the repair completed. In hot, humid areas, where airbags are more likely to rupture, the figure is up to 34 percent.

In November, Takata agreed to pay penalties of at least $70 million. NHTSA deferred another $130 million with the provision that the fine would be levied if the airbag manufacturer failed to disclose and fix defective airbag inflators. The inflators have not only been blamed for the 10 deaths, including a pregnant woman in Malaysia, and 98 injuries.

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