The deadline for automakers to replace recalled Takata airbags has long passed, yet millions of cars with the potentially deadly devices remain on the road.
In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) set a target date for recalled Takata airbags to be replaced by the end of 2017, yet 42 percent of the recalled repairs haven’t been made. The missed deadline prompted NHTSA acting director Heidi King to send a letter to all automakers affected by the recall.
“I am deeply concerned that, despite this progress, millions more vehicles with defective Takata airbag inflators remain on the roads,” King wrote. “We look forward to hearing your plans to complete the remedy program for these highest priority vehicles and your proposed timeline for doing so.”
NHTSA sent the letters to BMW AG, Daimler Vans, Daimler Trucks North America, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Nissan Motor Corp., Subaru, and Toyota Motor Corp.
Takata makes its airbags with ammonium nitrate, a cheap and highly unstable chemical compound that can cause the airbags to inflate with lethal force, blasting vehicle occupants with metal fragments. Takata airbag explosions have caused at least 22 deaths and about 300 injuries worldwide.
Fifteen of the 22 Takata airbag deaths occurred in the United States. Of the seven non-U.S. deaths, six occurred in Malaysia and one in Australia.
Honda is the automaker most affected by the Takata airbag debacle; all but two of the 22 deaths worldwide occurred in Honda vehicles. The other two occurred in Ford pickup trucks.
Many U.S. legislators and safety groups accuse the NHTSA of being unresponsive and disorganized under the Trump administration, pointing out that the agency went 15 months without a director.
Donald Trump nominated deputy NHTSA administrator King to the top spot last month, but the lack of leadership in the agency could explain why NHTSA failed to pressure automakers on its Takata airbag repair progress until now.