Federal auto safety regulators have done a sloppy job handling the Takata airbag recalls, which may have left millions of motorists exposed to the potentially deadly airbags longer than necessary, a government audit has found.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) failed to follow its own procedures in addressing low recall repair completion rates, according to a report compiled by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General and released to Congress July 18.
U.S. lawmakers asked Transportation Department officials in 2015 to investigate how effectively its own auto safety regulators were overseeing the sweeping Takata airbag recalls, which affect about 50 million Takata airbag units in 37 million U.S. vehicles, collectively forming the largest auto safety recall in U.S. history.
The Inspector General’s report also criticized NHTSA for its “delayed action to investigate” airbag complaints, which may have slowed down the recall expansions, according to Reuters.
The audit also found that NHTSA’s “minimal action to address low Takata recall completion rates and its poor oversight of manufacturers’ reporting on recall risk may have contributed to the slow implementation of these recalls between 2008 and 2015.”
NHTSA said in March that just 21 million of the 50 million defective Takata airbag units had been repaired – a dismal rate considering the urgency of the defect, which exposes motorists to the potentially lethal risk of serious injury or death. Takata airbags may deploy with violent force, blasting car occupants with shrapnel. In many cases, the hypersensitive airbags have exploded in fender-benders and other minor collisions that drivers and passengers should have walked away from unharmed.
Takata airbags have been linked to at least 23 deaths worldwide and about 300 injuries.
When automakers failed to include the required information in their recalls reports to NHTSA, the agency often failed to follow up and notify the manufacturers of the incomplete information.
“This is further evidence that the federal auto safety regulator isn’t doing enough to protect the public,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees NHTSA, according to Reuters.