As Takata Recall Expands and Death Toll Mounts, Markey & Blumenthal Demand More Aggressive Action from Regulators

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Following the twelfth confirmed fatality caused by a Takata airbag in the United States and an expanded recall of the defective products, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) urged the Trump Administration to take more aggressive action to protect consumers. In a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Jack Danielson, the lawmakers called for increased information and transparency about which vehicles may be too dangerous to drive.

The Senators’ letter follows two alarming developments in the largest automotive recall in history. Earlier this week, reports confirmed that a twelfth person in the United States had died as the result of a Takata airbag. In this case, the victim was not even driving a vehicle with a defective airbag, but was simply repairing a 2001 Honda Accord. “[W]hen an airbag in one of these vehicles is deployed, there is as much as a one in two chance that the airbag will violently explode and spew shrapnel that can cause death or serious injury,” the Senators wrote. “Games of Russian roulette offer less chance of injury or death.”

Yesterday, NHTSA announced that even desiccated ammonium nitrate airbag inflators may pose a safety risk and expanded its recall by 2.7 million Takata airbags. Previous recalls have only included airbags without a drying agent. “NHTSA has been much too generous in allowing Takata until 2019 to prove that ammonium nitrate inflators with a drying agent are not at risk of rupturing. It has been known for some time that ammonium nitrate is part of the root cause of the defective Takata airbags,” the Senators wrote. “Knowing now that even desiccated ammonium nitrate inflators pose a safety risk, it seems obvious that ammonium nitrate, whether desiccated or not, should not be used as a propellant in any airbag.”

In their letter, Blumenthal and Markey demanded NHTSA release the rupture rates for all vehicles affected by the recall and urged officials to work with automakers to warn owners against performing any repairs until they have their defective Takata airbag repaired by an authorized dealer. The Senators also called on NHTSA to further expand the recall to include all desiccated ammonium nitrate inflators.

The full text of the letter is copied below.

 

July 11, 2017

 

The Honorable Elaine Chao

Secretary of Transportation

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Ave, SE

Washington, DC 20590

 

Mr. Jack Danielson

Acting Deputy Administrator

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, West Building

Washington, DC 20590

 

Dear Secretary Chao and Mr. Danielson:

Yesterday, we learned of yet another death related to faulty Takata airbags. Like all such deaths from these airbags, this tragedy was completely preventable. According to reports, this incident, which took place just over a year ago, involved a parked 2001 Honda Accord with the ignition switch in the “on” position. The victim was attempting repairs on the vehicle when the airbag inflator ruptured. This is the 12th confirmed fatality in the United States caused by defective Takata airbags.

We don’t know if the victim was a licensed mechanic or just tinkering around, but we do know the victim had no way of knowing just how risky the Takata airbag in the vehicle he was working on was – even if he had been advised it contained a defective airbag. That’s because it wasn’t until 12 days after the fatality that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publicly released data revealing that certain model-year 2001-2003 Honda and Acura vehicles, including 2001 Honda Accords, demonstrate airbag rupture rates as high as 50 percent upon deployment. This means that when an airbag in one of these vehicles is deployed, there is as much as a one in two chance that the airbag will violently explode and spew shrapnel that can cause death or serious injury. Games of Russian roulette offer less chance of injury or death.

To prevent further tragedies, NHTSA can and must do more to inform consumers of the substantial risk to life posed by defective airbags and take aggressive action to accelerate their recall. Specifically, we urge NHTSA to publicly release all airbag testing data, including the rupture rate of Takata airbag inflators in all model-years affected by the recall. As Takata, NHTSA, manufacturers, and designated independent third parties complete testing on current and replacement airbags, we also ask you to ensure that the public receives regular updates on the status and results of these tests.

In addition to publicly releasing testing data, including rupture rates, we call on you to work with the 19 automakers affected by the recall to ensure that their auto recall notices warn owners against performing any self-repairs, unrelated repairs, or vehicle modifications until the Takata airbag recall is completed, and only by an authorized dealer. Such repairs put vehicle owners and car mechanics at unreasonable risk of injury, as demonstrated by this latest confirmed fatality.

Finally, we are alarmed by today’s announcement that even desiccated ammonium nitrate airbag inflators are dangerous. NHTSA has been much too generous in allowing Takata until 2019 to prove that ammonium nitrate inflators with a drying agent are not at risk of rupturing. It has been known for some time that ammonium nitrate is part of the root cause of the defective Takata airbags. Knowing now that even desiccated ammonium nitrate inflators pose a safety risk, it seems obvious that ammonium nitrate, whether desiccated or not, should not be used as a propellant in any airbag. We urge you to not wait for another airbag tragedy to occur, and instead commence a recall of all desiccated ammonium nitrate inflators – not just what appears to be a subset, as announced today. We also ask NHTSA to publicly identify all vehicles with airbags containing desiccated ammonium nitrate, whether installed as original equipment or during repair.

Consumers deserve access to the latest information so they can take appropriate action to protect themselves and their families, and keep themselves out of danger. We thank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter. We respectfully request a response no later than July 31, 2017.