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NHTSA Reports on Air Bag Repairs; Ninth Rupture-Related Death Confirmed

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How are Takata air bag recalls going?

For months there were delays. Consumers received notifications that their vehicles needed repairs, but when they called their dealerships, they were told that the parts hadn’t arrived yet. Now, things are picking up, at least according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In a December 23, 2015 announcement, the administration stated that the “pace of recall completion is accelerating rapidly,” and that in the two-week period ending December 4, 2015, over 950,000 vehicles were repaired. This acceleration occurred only after the administration fined Takata $70 million in November 2015, and created the “Coordinated Remedy Order” to accelerate repairs.

The NHTSA also announced, however, a ninth fatality likely caused by a Takata air bag.

NHTSA Steps Up Monitoring Activities

In addition to announcing the repairs, the NHTSA stated in December that they had selected an individual to monitor Takata’s progress with repairs, and to assist the agency “in providing important oversight of both the coordinated remedy program and of Takata’s compliance with consent orders.

Among those orders are directions on how to prioritize which vehicles are most at risk for Takata air bag explosions (particularly those in areas of high temperature and humidity), and deadlines for when the repairs should be completed within each priority group. Takata also agreed to NHTSA oversight for the next five years, to be sure they comply with orders to not only make timely repairs, but to phase out the controversial propellant chemical ammonium nitrate.

Meanwhile, a large problem continues to grow larger, as more automakers expand their Takata air bag recalls to include more model years and to incorporate passenger air bags.

Honda Confirms Ninth Death Likely Caused by Air Bag Rupture

In addition to giving an update on air bag repairs, the NHTSA also announced that they had received reports of another incident involving a Takata air bag rupture that resulted in the driver’s death. Though the reports had yet to be confirmed, the driver was in a 2001 vehicle that had “lived” in a high humidity region for most of its service life, and was under recall when the air bag exploded.

By the end of December, Honda confirmed that the air bag did explode in a July crash of a Honda Accord, and that the rupture did likely lead to the death of the driver. According to Reuters, the accident occurred near Pittsburgh, and the driver was an unidentified underage teenager who was hospitalized after the crash, but died several days later. Honda also noted that it had made multiple attempts to notify the owner that the air bag needed replacing.

So far, Takata air bag recalls encompass about 19 million vehicles in the U.S., and involve 12 auto manufacturers. That number is expected to rise, however, as more automakers identify other vehicles at risk.

At issue is the air bag propellant, which in some cases can explode, sending shrapnel into the vehicle and cause potentially life threatening injuries, such as knife-like wounds in the neck.