Friday, June 5, 2015


Uncertainty Looms Large About Safety of Takata Airbag Replacements
In November of last year, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration called for recalls involving certain vehicles manufactured with Takata airbags. It was alleged that the airbags are unsafe because they explode with excessive force, causing hot metal shrapnel to fly within the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Two weeks ago, Takata expanded its recall to cover nearly 34 million vehicles, including those manufactured by BMW, Honda, Ford, Mitsubishi and Chrysler. It is not expected that the recall and replacement will be completed for several years, leaving owners of affected vehicles with the unenviable choice of driving a vehicle with a known safety defect or not driving the vehicle at all.
Now, many questions are being raised over the safety of the airbag replacements. Takata and industry professionals have both stated that the fix for the recalled airbags is to replace them with “replacement” airbags. Takata’s replacement airbags, as described to a panel of the House of Representatives yesterday, consists of a different design of the airbag (altering the shape of the propellant wafer), but does not involve replacing the composition of the propellant itself, ammonium nitrate. But, what assurances are there that Takata’s “fix” will be safe?
Reuters reports that industry officials involved in the recall have said that it could take months to determine why Takata’s airbag inflators explode too forcefully. Since some airbags have already been replaced, and many will be replaced in the interim, it stands to reason that there is no certainty that the replacement airbags will fix the safety problem. According to industry officials, the replacement airbag inflators may eventually need to be replaced if the root cause of the problem has not been addressed when the core problem has been discovered. In other words, if it is later determined that the defect is caused because of the use of ammonium nitrate, the replacements, too, will be defective and unsafe.
Even government officials playing a role in the safety recall do not espouse the belief that the replacement product will fix the problem, to any certainty. In fact, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is quoted as saying, “We have a lot of work to do, especially with regard to why this happened in the first place.” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind also remarked that while replacement airbag inflators “are safer. The concern is, are they safe over the long term? That has yet to be determined.”
Certainly not a ringing endorsement.

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