Exploding Takata air bags prompt urgent warning to drivers from U.S. auto safety regulators

posted on:
October 21, 2014

author:
Kurt Niland

U.S. government officials have issued an urgent warning to 7.8 million drivers about the potential dangers posed by air bags made by Takata Corp., which can explode with excessive force and kill or seriously injure the front seat occupants of affected vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating Takata-made airbags since June amid mounting reports of deaths and injuries associated with the defective devices.

The defect is linked to the air bags’ inflator systems, which can shoot metal fragments from the devices into the car like shrapnel. Airbags on both the driver’s and passenger’s side can explode, even as a result of a fender bender or other minor collision.

NHTSA urges Americans to take immediate action by entering their vehicle identification number (VIN) number into its safercar.gov website to see if their vehicle contains the potentially deadly airbags.

The urgent plea comes three weeks after the death of a 46-year-old woman in a Sept. 29 crash near Orlando, Fla. Hien Thi Tran sustained severe neck wounds when the front end of her 2001 Honda Accord, one of the vehicles subject to a Takata airbag recall, collided with another vehicle as she was making a left turn.

So far, an investigation by Florida homicide detectives concluded that metal fragments from the airbag were to blame for Ms. Tran’s death. Authorities noted that there was no shattered glass or other metal fragments in the vehicle. Other investigations of the incident remain ongoing.

Tokyo-based Takata is one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers in the world, manufacturing air bag systems, safety belts, steering wheels, and numerous other parts, all of which are used in vehicles made by various automakers.

Vehicles containing the defective airbags include certain models made by Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, and General Motors vehicles. Several automakers have taken measures to replace the airbag systems and more than 12 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide because of the problem.

Government auto safety regulators believe these airbag incidents occur strictly in regions of high humidity, but auto safety advocates are warning NHTSA not to limit its recalls to vehicles in places such as Florida, the Gulf Cost, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan, and American Samoa.

The Associated Press reported that two U.S. senators are questioning NHTSA officials about why they are limiting the recall to humid regions when evidence exists that the defective airbags can explode in drier regions.

According to the AP, the legislators cited the death Ashley Parham, 18, of Oklahoma City “as proof the problem can occur in areas where humidity isn’t so prevalent. Parham was driving a 2001 Honda Accord across a high school parking lot in Midwest City, Oklahoma, when it hit another car. The air bag inflated and sent shards of metal into her neck, causing her death.”

Recalls limited to humid regions would also fail to cover vehicles whose owners relocate to or from dryer regions.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, estimates the faulty Takata airbags are installed in some 20 million to 25 million vehicles in the United States.

According to the NHTSA, the following vehicles are being recalled for their Takata airbags:

BMW: 627,615 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sedan
2000 – 2006 3 Series Coupe
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sports Wagon
2000 – 2006 3 Series Convertible
2001 – 2006 M3 Coupe
2001 – 2006 M3 Convertible

Chrysler: 371,309 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2008 Dodge Ram 1500
2005 – 2008 Dodge Ram 2500
2006 – 2008 Dodge Ram 3500
2006 – 2008 Dodge Ram 4500
2008 – Dodge Ram 5500
2005 – 2008 Dodge Durango
2005 – 2008 Dodge Dakota
2005 – 2008 Chrysler 300
2007 – 2008 Chrysler Aspen

Ford: 58,669 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2004 – Ranger
2005 – 2006 GT
2005 – 2007 Mustang

General Motors: undetermined total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2005 Pontiac Vibe
2005 – Saab 9-2X

Honda: 5,051,364 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 – 2007 Honda Accord)
2001 – 2002 Honda Accord
2001 – 2005 Honda Civic
2002 – 2006 Honda CR-V
2003 – 2011 Honda Element
2002 – 2004 Honda Odyssey
2003 – 2007 Honda Pilot
2006 – Honda Ridgeline
2003 – 2006 Acura MDX
2002 – 2003 Acura TL/CL
2005 – Acura RL

Mazda: 64,872 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2007 Mazda6
2006 – 2007 MazdaSpeed6
2004 – 2008 Mazda RX-8
2004 – 2005 MPV
2004 – B-Series Truck

Mitsubishi: 11,985 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2004 – 2005 Lancer
2006 – 2007 Raider

Nissan: 694,626 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 – 2003 Nissan Maxima
2001 – 2004 Nissan Pathfinder
2002 – 2004 Nissan Sentra
2001 – 2004 Infiniti I30/I35
2002 – 2003 Infiniti QX4
2003 – 2005 Infiniti FX35/FX45

Subaru: 17,516 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2005 Baja
2003 – 2005 Legacy
2003 – 2005 Outback
2004 – 2005 Impreza

Toyota: 877,000 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2002 – 2005 Lexus SC
2002 – 2005 Toyota Corolla
2003 – 2005 Toyota Corolla Matrix
2002 – 2005 Toyota Sequoia
2003 – 2005 Toyota Tundra

NOTE: This article was updated Oct. 22 to reflect an increase in the number of vehicles affected, and to update the list of affected vehicles. The NHTSA increased the number from nearly 5 million to 7.8 million. The numbers cited for potentially affected vehicles are subject to change and adjustment because there may be cases of vehicles being counted more than once. Owners should check their VIN periodically as manufacturers continue to add VINs to the database. Once owner recall notices are available, owners can retrieve a copy from SaferCar.gov, or will receive one by U.S. mail and are advised to carefully follow the enclosed instructions.

Sources:
Associated Press
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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