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Exploding Airbag Caused Death of Another Driver from Recalled Inflators

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An 11th death may be linked to an exploding airbag, as federal investigators indicate that a 50-year old California woman died last month in an auto accident involving a 2001 Honda Civic with a recalled Takata airbag inflator, which has been linked to similar reports of problems where the airbags may over-inflate and explode, causing debris to be shot into the passenger compartment. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a press release on Thursday, indicating that a defective airbag manufactured by Takata played a role in the death of Delia Robles, following a head-on collision in Riverside County, California on September 30. The NHTSA reports that her airbag inflator ruptured, contributing to her death.

According to the NHTSA and local media reports, Robles was driving a 2001 Honda Civic when she had an accident with a man making a left turn in a Chevrolet pickup truck. While the NHTSA has said the airbag played a role in Robles death, it is has not been specified whether she was injured by shrapnel, if the exploding airbag left her with no protection from the impact, or if other factors in the crash contributed to her death.

Robles is at least the 11th person in the United States whose death has been linked to exploding Takata airbags. Her vehicle was one of tens of millions that are part of a recall, to have the airbags replaced. However, repairing and replacing the recalled Takata airbags has been a slow process. The NHTSA specifically indicates that the Robles’ Honda Civic was categorized as having a substantially higher risk of an airbag explosion or rupture.

Takata airbag recalls have affected nearly 70 million vehicles sold by many major auto makers. The airbags are prone to overinflate and rupture, potentially causing shrapnel and other dangerous debris to fly into the passenger compartment. Takata airbag ruptures have been blamed for more than 100 severe injuries worldwide, with medics often describing horrific injuries among those impaled by the debris shot out of the airbag.

Takata is currently in a settlement agreement with the NHTSA, following a November 2015 consent order. The agreement requires Takata to cooperate with the agency in all future actions involving the recall investigation, and demands that the NHTSA be head controller of the recall campaigns in the U.S., granting the agency exclusive control in organizing and prioritizing the recall process to speed up the repairs. In addition, the NHTSA fined Takata $200 million.

Nearly every major automaker has been impacted by the recalls, including Honda, General Motors, Ford, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chrysler (FCA), Mazda, Toyota, and various others.

The recalled Takata airbag inflators pose a serious risk, with many vehicles remaining on the road, as efforts to repair vehicles with recalled airbag inflators have faced an uphill climb, as additional recalls continue to be issued, adding more and more vehicles to the list.

Under the consent order, the NHTSA ordered Takata to stop manufacturing phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate propellant inflators that investigators believe are the root cause of the problems. Investigators from the agency have insisted the inflators ammonium nitrate based propellants are unstable when exposed to high humidity causing them to rupture either spontaneously or when needed in automobile crashes.

The ammonium nitrate based inflators have been found to pose explosion risks under certain conditions, unlike normal inflators. Investigations by the NHTSA have identified the inflators are more susceptible to explode in more humid climates, mainly southern regions of the U.S. that are closer to the equator. The NHTSA has specifically stated that the ammonium nitrate based propellants may not be suitable for inflator designs due to the unknown effects of climate impact.

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Image via 360b / Shutterstock.com

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