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NHTSA Schedules Public Hearing to Discuss Takata Air Bag Recalls

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated recently that it will hold a public hearing on October 22, 2015. The purpose of the hearing is to discuss the current Takata air bag recalls, to determine if more needs to be done to protect public safety.

In June 2015, Takata made a public apology for its air bags that have exploded, killing at least eight people and injuring over 100 more. At that time, they stepped up their recalls to include all 50 states, but now some regulators are questioning if that will be enough to stop additional accidents.

The issue became more concerning when the NHTSA learned of another crash involving a ruptured Takata airbag, this time in a 2015 Volkswagen that was not included in the air bag recalls. The NHTSA is considering additional administrative orders that would help accelerate air bag inflator replacements in vehicles across the country.

NHTSA Hopes to Increase Awareness of Takata Air Bag Recalls

So far, according to Reuters, about 19 million vehicles have been recalled to replace defective Takata air bags. The problem is that in some instances, the air bag explodes rather than deploying at it should, spraying metal and plastic shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle. Occupants have suffered knife-like wounds, vision and hearing loss, and in some cases, puncture-wounds that lead to death.

In addition to increasing public awareness about the issue, the NHTSA plans to host “presentations by regulators, vehicle manufacturers, air-bag inflator suppliers and organizations involved in testing the products” at the public hearing, in an effort to get a clear picture of what’s being done, and what may yet need to happen to make sure more people aren’t hurt or killed by these air bags.

It’s not clear yet what may come of the hearing, but it may be that recalls will be expanded again, to cover newer vehicles as well as older ones. So far, Takata has stated that only the older air bags that are vulnerable to exploding. A manufacturing defect paired with aging chemical propellants, particularly when exposed to high temperatures and high humidities, can create circumstances in which the inflator explodes.

The recent incident with the 2015 Volkswagen, though, has some regulators concerned that Takata doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to explaining why these air bags explode.

Should Takata Side Air Bags Be Recalled Too?

So far, air bag recalls have included mostly frontal air bags, as these are the ones that have exploded in the past. In the recent incident, however, a side air bag exploded, raising concerns that these devices, also, may be defective.

According to NBC News, GM recently notified the NHTSA that it recalled over 300 Chevrolet Malibus that were going to be sold in the Middle East because a side air bag failed during routine testing.

Taken together, these two incidents raise serious concerns about the safety of side air bags. The NHTSA will likely be reviewing the need for a Takata side air bag recall at the October 22nd hearing.

Are Newer Air Bags Safer Than the Older Ones?

Though it may seem simple to expand the Takata air bag recalls to include all air bags, such a move could cause problems. Already manufacturers are struggling to meet demand for replacements, and vehicle dealers continue to tax their workforce with repair requirements.

There is also the question of whether the new air bags are safer than the old ones. Some new air bags are still made with the chemical propellant “ammonium nitrate,” which has come under question because of its inherent instability. According to the New York Times, two engineers formerly employed by Takata revealed that the chemical was not as stable as other options.