Deadly Airbags

The nation-wide recall of certain automobiles equipped with Takata airbags just grew by hundreds of thousands. Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration added more than three hundred thousand vehicles to a recall list that is not only record breaking, but quite simply, mind-blowing. With this latest addition, the number of recalled vehicles totals over sixty million in the United States alone. As the New York Times reported on June 30, 2016, “in an urgent plea to car owners, federal safety regulators on Thursday warned that airbags in more than 300,000 older Honda and Acura vehicles were at an unacceptably high risk of exploding, and needed to be replaced immediately.”

This news is the latest in a recall aimed at fixing a feature in a vehicle that is designed to save lives. The problem stems from the material that engages and inflates the airbag during a car crash. After several years of exposure to heat, this propellant can deteriorate. Consequently, as the bag inflates, the defective propellant causes a metal part of the bag to break into pieces and shoot out towards the driver or passenger in the car. The risk is especially high in humid areas of the country such as the gulf coast or southern California. According to the New York Times, the airbags have been linked to at least fourteen deaths and hundreds of more injuries. Recently, a teenager was killed in Texas when the metal part shot out of the airbag and severed an artery in her neck.

The latest recall generally encompasses older Honda and Acura vehicles from 2001 to 2003 including the Civic, Accord and CR-V. Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx stated that these airbags have as high as a fifty percent chance of malfunction in a crash. He cautioned that the vehicles are not safe to drive and should be immediately repaired. In a press release announcing the recall, he warned, “folks should not drive these vehicles unless they are going straight to a dealer to have them repaired immediately, free of charge.”

Consumers can view the entire list of recalled makes and models at safercar.gov. Vehicle owners can also enter their car’s VIN to see if their specific vehicle is subject to recall. If your vehicle is subject to recall, you should immediately contact your automobile dealer or automobile manufacturer who can coordinate repairing the defective air bag free of charge. In fact, in response to the latest recall, Honda has doubled the size of its customer service staff to handle the millions of inquiries into the recalled airbags. To date, nearly nine million defective airbags have been repaired.

While Takata and the automobile manufacturers are taking steps to address this large and very complex situation, many are arguing that the remedies are both too little too late while not going far enough. Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from the state of Florida, complained to the Associated Press last week that “these vehicles are death traps, and Takata and Honda have understated the risks for far too long.” He argues that the danger and risk in the vehicles is so severe companies should be doing more than merely telling people to come to the dealer. Rather, according to Senator Nelson, “they need to go out and find these vehicles and get them off the road.”

This past May, Hawaii became the first state to file a lawsuit against both Takata and Honda. The suit alleges that the companies should be doing more to get the dangerous airbags out of vehicles. The suit also seeks civil penalties and compensation for vehicle owners who may need their car repaired or now faces a diminished value of their automobile due to the recall. In filing the suit, Hawaii’s director of consumer protection Steve Levins stated, “We’re not going to sit back and wait for more accidents to happen.” Other states are expected to follow Hawaii’s lead and file similar lawsuits against the companies.