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Government traffic safety officials have sent notices to seven more automakers seeking information about which models use Takata airbag inflators were used in their vehicles, signaling that additional vehicles may be added to the millions of cars already subject to recalls due to a risk that the airbags may over-inflate and rupture.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent letters to Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar-Land Rover, Suzuki, Tesla Motors, Volvo Trucks, Volkswagen and Spartan Motors on September 22, asking how many vehicles were equipped with ammonium nitrate propellant airbag inflators manufactured by Takata, and whether the companies are considering recalls at this time.
More than 34 million cars sold by about ten other major auto makers have already been involved in the Takata airbag recall, which has been the largest recall to hit the automotive industry in U.S. history.
Airbags with certain Takata inflators have been described as “ticking time bombs,” due to the optional that they may explode, sending sharp pieces of metal or other debris flying towards occupants of the vehicle in a crash. Hundreds of injuries and at least eight deaths have already been linked to Takata airbags in vehicles sold by Honda, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Daimler Trucks, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Subaru.
According to the NHTSA, new reports suggest the scope of the problems may reach newer model vehicles, not previously included in the initial group of recalls.
In the letters, the NHTSA pinpoints that they are seeking all vehicles using Takata airbags, but are especially looking for vehicles that use Takata airbags containing ammonium nitrate as the propellant.
Takata recently acknowledged that the airbags may be rupturing due to a breakdown in the chemical, which could lead to an overaggressive combustion or cause the inflator to rupture over time. Takata indicates that additional factors may include temperature and airborne moisture causing airbags in more humid climates to be prone to the accidents.
The NHTSA stated in the letters that “it is expected that the scope of the current Takata recalls may expand as time goes on and will likely grow to include vehicles that are outside the scope of the current recalls. The recalls may also grow to include inflator types that are not currently within the scope of the Takata defect determinations.”
The inquiry notices were sent to the manufacturers partially due to an ongoing NHTSA investigation that included a rupturing Takata airbag in a Volkswagen SUV that was not part of the initial recalls. The incident involved a St. Louis driver striking a deer in their 2015 VW Tiguan, causing an air bag to blow apart with too much force, similar to the older model airbags recalled. Although the driver of the vehicle did not sustain any injuries, NHTSA reports have indicated a passenger could have been severely injured had one been in the passenger seat.
The NHTSA sent the letters to the seven automakers just weeks before the agency is scheduled to hold a public hearing in attempt to take legal oversight of the recall in order to organize and prioritize the replacement of the defective airbags. With the NHTSA legally taking over the repair process, this means that vehicles in areas of high humidity are likely to be repaired first, since that seems to be a major factor in the overinflation incidents.
One of the main reasons behind the agency’s push to take control is the slow repair process. Takata claims they are working as fast as possible to repair recalled vehicles, but has been slowed down by a lack of supplies. In February 2015, the NHTSA reported that just over 2 million of the vehicles had been repaired, and earlier this month the Associated Press reported that only 4.4 million vehicles have been repaired.
As the NHTSA has scrambled to file consent orders against the Japanese part supplier and gain control over the repair process to more quickly repair vehicles on U.S. roadways, the agency has also created a specified VIN search on their website and launched campaigns to bring awareness and make it convenient for drivers to verify if their vehicles are part of the recall. U.S. vehicle owners are encouraged to visit vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/ regardless of the make and model of your vehicle to confirm its recall status regarding the airbags.
Takata Airbag Recall Lawsuits
A growing number of Takata airbag lawsuits are being filed nationwide on behalf of individuals who suffered severe injuries from an exploding airbag. All involve similar allegations that design defects caused the airbags to overinflate and rupture.
On February 5, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered all airbag lawsuits against Takata filed in federal courts nationwide to be consolidated under one judge for pretrial proceedings as part of a Takata airbag MDL.
Complaints filed throughout the federal court system will be transferred to U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno in the Southern District of Florida to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.