As 2017 winds down, it is interesting to note that the largest vehicle recall in history is ongoing. In fact, last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed yet another fatality caused by faulty Takata airbag inflators.
The NHTSA inspected a suspect vehicle the day after Christmas and confirmed the cause of death was the faulty Takata airbag inflator. The fatality occurred following an accident in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 10 of this year. The unidentified victim marks the 20th death worldwide attributed to the faulty Takata airbag inflators, which can explode with too much force and hurl shrapnel into the cabins of both cars and trucks.
The Danger of Faulty Airbags
The NHTSA announcement comes as the largest automotive recall in history is continuing unabated. Tens of millions of vehicles were equipped with potentially very dangerous and deadly airbags, and most are still on the road nationwide, including Texas. In fact, an independent monitor appointed by federal officials to oversee the recall recently issued a new report, entitled “The State of the Takata Air Bag Recalls.” An estimated 30 million vehicles nationwide are still driving around equipped with potentially faulty airbags.
According to the report, although everyone, including the NHTSA, had set a goal of Dec. 31, 2017 for replacing 100 percent of the older and most dangerous airbag inflators, by the end of November, when the report came out, only about 43 percent of the faulty parts had been replaced. This, despite the fact that recalls have been underway for nearly 15 years so far. This slow rate of completion has come even though the NHTSA began coordinating and phasing in the recalls about two years ago. Prior to that, the individual automakers were striving to obtain the parts and completing repairs on their own. In most other recalls, automakers complete repairs on 75 percent of recalled vehicles within 18 months, which indicates the scope of the Takata recalls.
The Problem With Recalls: Owners
This is a serious problem that certainly needs to be addressed. So far, 14 of the 20 fatalities tied to Takata airbags are from the United States and the report describes those deaths in very gruesome detail. In one instance in which a victim was killed by a faulty airbag inflator, police who arrived on the scene “initially thought [the victim] had been shot in the face.” In another case, police described the scene thusly, “Metal shrapnel severed [the victim’s] neck.” When a vehicle safety device does things like this, it’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
Of course, in addition to the 20 people killed worldwide, hundreds of other accident victims have been seriously injured by these faulty inflators. Despite these grisly statistics, the report notes that it has been very difficult for officials to get vehicle owners to respond to recall notices. This has been true, even in the regions most vulnerable to the problem. Because continuous cycles of high temperatures and humidity seem to pose the highest risk for making the chemicals used in the inflators more unstable, officials have largely concentrated their efforts in hot and humid areas.
In spite of the valiant efforts of federal and state officials and vehicle manufacturers, many vehicle owners continue to be unaware of the recalls, while many simply don’t see them as important enough. According to the report, recall notices using words like “faulty” or “defective” are often not enough to get the owner’s attention.
Therefore, the report recommends that vehicle owners receive more emotional notices that stress that their unrepaired airbag could hurt or kill them. Research has shown that owners who receive such notices are far more likely to contact a dealer. Also, those automakers who have gone door to door to find owners who have failed to respond to mailed recall notices are showing the best response rates.
The Best Way to Fix These Airbags
No one has given up on the problem, including those responsible at the federal or Texas state levels. However, any solution requires the cooperation of vehicle owners. The fact of the matter is, one of the key features included in many vehicles designed to keep you safe in an accident could actually end up injuring or killing you or someone else in the vehicle. And vehicle owners and drivers need to get on top of this before a tragedy occurs to you or your family.
As they oversee the Takata recall, the NHTSA has decided to divide all affected vehicles into 12 priority groups, based on the vehicle’s risk of airbag explosion. That risk is determined based on the vehicle’s age and its exposure to heat and humidity. They have set up a series of rolling recall deadlines that extend into 2010, but the agency is shooting for a 100 percent completion rate and plans to settle for nothing less. Again, if you have one of these vehicles, it will require your cooperation to be successful.
In order to do your part, you will have to find out if you own a vehicle with a potentially faulty Takata airbag. That is easily done, by using the NHTSA online recall lookup tool. If you discover your vehicle is under recall, do whatever you can to get the problem fixed. You could be saving your own life or the life of a family member.