For decades, airbags have been saving lives in fender benders and major crashes across the world. On Tuesday, May 19, 2015 Takata – a Japanese airbag manufacturer – finally admitted that its airbags were defective, doubling the number of vehicles recalled to 34 million.
While there’s a lot that can go wrong with a faulty airbag the issue with the recalled Takata airbags is a defective inflator and propellant devices. This means that during a crash, your airbag may propel metal fragments in every direction. Meanwhile, the faulty inflator can cause the airbag to burst when it experiences excessive pressure. Automakers last July decided to issue a recall when they feared that the summer’s extreme humidity would trigger the faulty airbags. Last year Takata admitted that the metal at risk of propelling from the airbag was caused by improper handling and assembly. Rust, poor welding, and even discarded chewing gum are also to blame.
This recall has been plaguing automakers for years, and it has been a long time coming. In 2013, a Toyota recall occurred in response to these same airbag issues. In the same year, The Times alleges that both Honda and Takata were aware of the faulty inflators and metal propellants. This article by The new York Times, argues that the 2 deaths and 30 injuries in Honda vehicles could have been totally preventable if the recall they knew needed to happen had come earlier.
Lax safety standards, and poor production quality are to blame. According to Reuters, Takata’s plant in Mexico knowingly allowed a defect rate “six to eight times above” acceptable limits. Meaning that Takata knew 60 to 80 units out of every 1 million airbags shipped would malfunction.
To date, 34 million vehicles have been recalled. Those models at the “highest risk” are 2003-2007 Toyota Corolla and Toyota Matrix, 2003-2007 Pontiac Vibe, and the 2004-2007 Honda Accord. For a complete list of affected vehicles see here.
Yesterday, on May 19, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx further expanded the recall making it “the most complex consumer safety recall in U.S. History.” For years Takata has been downplaying the life and death significance of their faulty airbags, but no longer.
After negotiations, Takata has agreed to reimburse the U.S. Government for their lack of cooperation that resulted in numerous death and injuries. The exact figure of their fine has not yet been determined, however Regulators in the U.S. have been fining the company $14,000 per day in response to their unwillingness to cooperate. Furthermore, Congress is considering a criminal investigation of Takata.