Federal auto safety regulators have again fallen under sharp criticism for their handling of exploding air bags made by Japanese supplier Takata. The defective airbags, which have been installed in millions of U.S. vehicles, are prone to deploying with excessive force, blasting metal shrapnel through the vehicle’s interior, sometimes with deadly consequences.
On Thursday Senators Richard Blumental (D-CT) and Edward Markey (D-Mass) planned to send “a sternly worded letter,” The New York Times reported, scolding the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for its lackadaisical handling of the Takata airbag recalls.
Specifically, the lawmakers want to know why NHTSA is allowing automakers to recall vehicles with the affected airbags from humid regions and territories of the U.S. only, when evidence exists that the airbags can and have malfunction in drier areas.
Nine automakers collectively recalled nearly one million autos containing the faulty airbags, but only in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Honda later expanded its own recall to 2.4 million more vehicles in Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.
“N.H.T.S.A. should immediately issue a nationwide safety recall on all the affected cars, regardless of where the car is registered,” the senators said in their letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, explaining that “All states experience seasons of heat and humidity.” The New York Times obtained a copy of the unsent letter.
The senators then reprimanded NHTSA for its own oversight of the recalls. “We have become troubled and alarmed by the confusing and conflicting advice being issued by N.H.T.S.A., and the glacial pace of the agency’s response to this public safety threat,” they wrote.
According to the New York Times, Senators Blumenthal and Markey said they were “alarmed and astonished” that the NHTSA was endorsing a recall approach that they said is “troubling and potentially dangerous” amid a shortage of the replacement parts. Toyota , for instance, said it could disable the passenger-side airbags if the airbag part was not yet available and instruct drivers to keep people from sitting in that seat.
“Owners of the vehicles should be given free loaner vehicles to drive while they wait for the part to be made and installed,” the senators advised. Toyota and other automakers deactivating passenger-side airbags are shifting the responsibility for the defect to the driver by advising them to keep anyone from sitting in the passenger seat for however long it takes to fix the problem.
Other actions taken on Capitol Hill include Representative Fred Upton, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asking NHTSA to explain its handling of the exploding airbags, “to ensure that the appropriate steps are being taken to protect drivers and their families,” he said.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who heads a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection and has spearheaded hearings on General Motors’ recalls of deadly ignition switches, also seeks a briefing of the Takata airbag defect and how various automakers have handled the problem.
According to the New York Times, more than 14 million vehicles containing defective Takata airbags have been recalled by 11 different automakers since 2008. Takata first became aware of the problem in 2004 after one of its airbags in a 2002 Honda Accord exploded in Alabama. In that case, however, neither Honda nor Takata issued a recall, neither did they seeks NHTSA’s involvement, according to the New York Times.
Most of the vehicles – 11.6 million – containing the defective airbags are in the U.S.
Source: New York Times