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Honda Airbag Problems Lead to More Recalls, As Additional Death Reported

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As reports of serious injuries continue to be linked to exploding airbags manufactured by Takata Corporation, Honda announced the recall of another 170,000 vehicles after a fifth death was linked to a defective airbag that over-inflated and caused deadly shrapnel to be projected into the passenger cabin.

The recall expansion is the latest in a series of actions to address the potential risk of Honda airbags problems, which previous reports suggested may be more likely to occur in humid areas. This latest death was reported from Malaysia.

Over 130 other serious injuries worldwide have been linked to exploding airbags manufactured by Takata, which were used in millions of Honda, Toyota, BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Ford, Mazda and Subaru vehicles. However, all of the airbag deaths reported so far have occurred in vehicles manufactured by Honda.

This latest death was disclosed just days after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered Honda to turn over all documents involving airbag explosions, indicating that there may be additional deaths and injuries that the auto maker had not reported to the agency.

NHTSA regulations require that automakers report deaths linked to their products, even when they occur outside of the United States.

This new Honda recall impacts an estimated 170,000 vehicles, including a variety of Honda Fit, Jazz and Civic vehicles from model years ranging from 2002 to 2008. The recall expansion does not impact any vehicles sold or located in the United States, with all of the new vehicles sold and registered in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, including China and Japan.

Humidity Link to Airbag Problems

In recent weeks, investigators have suggested that the defective Takata airbags may be more prone to over-inflate and rupture in humid areas, due to the airbag propellant burning too fast, potentially causing the bags blow apart the metal canisters.

Earlier this year Honda recalled certain models believed to be impacted by humidity in Alabama,Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Saipan, Guam and American Samoa.

New evidence has been presented to the NHTSA by Honda that certain rupturing airbags could have been caused by certain components of the airbags having been exposed to moisture during the assembly process.

Honda spokesman Tsotomu Nakamura announced in the recent recall notice that an investigation at the now-closed Takata factory in La Grange, Georgia, previously not identified in the automaker’s regulatory filings on the defects, found a conveyor on a machine that manufactures propellant tablets had malfunctioned and left the internal tablet component exposed to moisture on the belt.

However, a number of reports have tracked airbag defects back to the company’s Monclova, Mexico plant, and internal memos have suggested problems at that factory as recently as 2010. One recent recall affected airbags manufactured at the Mexico facility as recently as this summer.

Earlier this month, the New York Times released information indicating that Takata may have known of the potential airbag defects as far back as 2004. Reports from two former Takata employees have accused the supplier of performing secret tests and destroying the evidence approximately four years before the first recall was ever announced.

The revelation of these reports has caught the eyes of multiple U.S. officials including U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, and Edward j. Markey, from Massachusetts, who have called on the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into Takata stating in a report that if the supplier was aware of the fatal airbag defects and concealed the information and destroyed evidence of the company’s testing in 2004, then Takata should be held criminally responsible.

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Image via Hatchapong Palurtchaivong / Shutterstock.com

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