Last year automakers recalled 53.2 million vehicles in the United States. It is a record that has been broken annually since 2014, though it’s not exactly one we should hope to break. Each recall notice means hundreds, thousands or millions of people have been put at risk of serious injury or death. No example better highlights the potential risk than the Takata airbag recall, which has identified 46 million airbag inflators for repair and affected approximately 29 million vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates only about 13.6 million of the 46 million defective airbags have been repaired, leaving millions driving cars with a defective airbag — a product meant to protect drivers’ lives — that could literally explode in their faces during an accident if it is exposed to high temperatures or humidity.
The recall has been a messy one: Not enough replacement parts exist to fix all the previously affected cars. But what about new cars? You would think a recall on Takata airbags would mean they were no longer installed in vehicles coming off the assembly line — but you would be wrong.
Defective airbags linked to the largest consumer recall in history were still being placed in new cars long after their dangers became apparent. Why? Some had yet to be recalled and so they could still technically be installed.
A June 2016 NBC News piece reported automakers Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Daimler Vans, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen were at some point knowingly using defective Takata airbags that had not been equipped with desiccant, a chemical designed to reduce moisture, in new cars. People bought cars not realizing they would soon be recalled — and the manufacturers knew the parts they were installing had been linked to people’s deaths. It seems like a far cry from trying to protect consumers.
To make matters worse, a shortage of replacement parts not only means Americans continue to travel with defective airbags, but last year federal regulators approved installing defective Takata inflators as replacements for older airbags in about 2.1 million recalled vehicles.
“Federal regulators have approved (the) move as a temporary measure due to a shortage of replacement parts using newer, safer designs,” NBC News explained in its 2016 article.
A better way has to be found. America should be striving to create safer vehicles that require fewer recalls — not switching out one potential disaster for another or continuing to allow manufacturers to install products they know are defective. Some records should never be broken.
* * *
Beasley Allen attorney Chris Glover, who is heading up the firm’s new Atlanta office, handles cases of personal injury involving defective automotive products in single- and multi-vehicle crashes. For more information about these types of claims, contact him by email at Chris.Glover@BeasleyAllen.com. Chris also recently wrote a book about trucking litigation, An Introduction to Truck Accident Claims: A Guide to Getting Started. This book is free to lawyers. To get your copy, visit www.chrisglover-law.com/book.