The airbag rupture nearly killed Karina Dorado, a customer service call center worker, by puncturing her trachea. Trauma surgeons removed metal pieces of the Takata airbag and its housing from her neck and vocal cords, which were also damaged. She is still being treated for neck injuries.
While automakers, federal regulators, and civic and municipal leaders are pushing car owners affected by the massive Takata airbag recall to have the devices repaired, the Las Vegas incident exposes another problem concerning the airbags: there is nothing stopping the defective devices from being salvaged from wrecked vehicles and installed in other vehicles as replacements.
That was the problem with Ms. Dorado’s Honda Accord. Her father bought the vehicle for her last year, not knowing it had been wrecked in Phoenix in 2015 and repaired using salvaged Takata airbags and other parts.
Honda said that it has purchased more than 60,000 salvaged Takata airbag modules in an effort to keep the faulty devices from being reused, but there is currently no system in place to ensure the recalled airbags are completely removed from commerce.
Takata has recalled about 46 million of the airbag units from 29 million vehicles in the U.S. alone. The recall will expand to include about 70 million airbag units from 42 million vehicles in the U.S. by 2019.
The airbags use a highly sensitive ammonium nitrate compound in the inflator mechanisms. Over time, the chemical compound can become compromised by humidity, making it hypersensitive and prone to deploy the airbag with lethal force.
Takata airbags are blamed for 16 deaths worldwide, 11 of which occurred in the U.S. and all but one of which involved Honda vehicles. More than 180 people have been injured by the exploding airbags, many of them seriously.