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Takata Airbag Recall Expanded: Repairs “Accelerating Rapidly”, But May Come Too Late for Some

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Government highway safety officials have announced a recall expansion on certain Honda, Mazda, and Subaru vehicles containing rupturing Takata airbag inflators, which have already been linked to at least nine deaths worldwide, with the most latest U.S. fatality disclosed this week. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a Takata airbag recall expansion for certain Honda CR-V’s, Mazda 6’s, and Subaru Legacy and Outback vehicles, adding to the existing 34 million vehicles recalled by 12 automakers due to defective airbag inflators.

According to the NHTSA, the recent recall expansion accounts for an additional 467,000 new vehicles with defective Takata airbags, which may over-inflate and rupture, sending shrapnel and debris flying into the passenger compartment.

The vehicles included in this latest NHTSA announcement include 2005 through 2008 Mazda6 vehicles, 2002 through 2044 Honda CR-V vehicles, 2005 through 2008 Subaru Legacy vehicles, and 2005 through 2008 Subaru Outback vehicles. The NHTSA reports that these vehicles contain passenger-side inflators that have the potential to rupture unexpectedly or explode when exposed to high heat and humidity for long periods.

Over the past year, Takata airbag recalls have repeatedly rocked the automobile market, causing 44 separate recalls from 12 major automobile manufacturers, accounting for an estimated 34 million vehicles to date.

The recalls come following reports of the Takata airbag inflators bursting and exploding, causing at least nine deaths and a number of severe injuries.

At least eight of the nine deaths have been reported in the U.S., indicating that shrapnel was released at such high speeds due to the combusting airbags that first responders initially called one fatality a homicide.

Slow Pace of Repairs

With such a dangerous defect in so many vehicles still being driven on U.S. roadways, the NHTSA stepped in during November and issued a Consent Order, which requires the company to be cooperative with the agency in all future actions involving the current recall investigation.

The order demands that the NHTSA be head controller of the recall campaigns in the U.S. and to organize and prioritize the recall process to speed up the repairs. In addition to taking control of the recall process, under the Consent Order, NHTSA fined Takata $200 million.

The NHTSA aimed to take control of the Takata airbag recall process due to the lack of ability for Takata to supply and repair the recalled vehicles in any timely manner. Experts stated the recall repairs could take several years to fix the recalled vehicles, and at the current rate with only 27.3 percent of vehicles repaired, it could result in more fatalities due to consumers being exposed to the lethal airbags for so long.

The NHTSA announced this week that it has selected John D. Buretta, a former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department to oversee Takata’s compliance with its obligations to the NHTSA enforcement orders and implementing the Coordinated Remedy Program that is anticipated to help speed up the repair process. The NHTSA additionally claims the repair process has been accelerating rapidly with more than 950,000 vehicles being repaired in the two week period ending on December 4, 2015.

However, as more vehicle manufacturers announce and expand recalls, the repair efforts are being continuously negated. Parts and supplies have also been a continuous challenge throughout the repair process with Takata failing to be able to provide them, which has caused the NHTSA to outsource remedying the airbags to other suppliers. An estimated 70 percent of the replacement inflators will come from non-Takata suppliers, according to the NHTSA.

Additional concerns regarding vehicle sales in the U.S. have been raised by the Takata airbag recalls, such as the laws allowing used car dealers to sell vehicles with known safety defects.

Two public interest groups, the California Public Interest Research Group and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation have started a petition on Change.org, asking the California attorney general and the Department of Motor Vehicles to investigate and stop the used car giant CarMax from selling recalled cars without repairing safety defects.

Currently, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator (NHTSA) Mark Rosekind are pressing for Congress to pass legislation that would prevent customers from receiving rental cars or used vehicles subject to safety recalls until they have been repaired. The legislation would be included in an infrastructure bill known as the Grow America Act and would detail procedural rules for requiring the rental agencies and used car dealers to go about fixing the defects in the manner that new car dealerships follow currently.

The legislation has gained the support of the public after a used Honda vehicle with an unrepaired Takata airbag recall was re-sold and just days later caused the driver to crash in Pennsylvania when the airbag inflator spontaneously ruptured, killing their minor child. Honda responded to the incident and claimed they sent the new owner of the vehicle a recall notice, but their notice to the driver was not received in time before the crash.

The NHTSA is urging drivers to visit their website at https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/ to check and see if their vehicles VIN is included under the Takata recall campaigns. Safety Notices to individuals who purchased a used vehicles impacted by the Takata airbag recall may not reach newer owners, which could delay the repairs of a deadly defect.

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