At least five people have died from injuries caused by defective Takata airbags, and over 100 more have suffered serious injuries, including permanent eye damage. The Japanese company faces a criminal probe, an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and over 20 airbag lawsuits. The NHTSA also recently ordered Takata and about 10 car manufacturers to implement an industry-wide recall of all vehicles with driver’s-side Takata airbags.
Now, according to CBS News, Japan’s own transport ministry has also ordered Takata to conduct an internal investigation into the airbag problem, and to find out why the explosions are happening. So far, all the company has been able to determine is that something went wrong during manufacturing, or potentially with the propellant in the airbag, that can be exacerbated in highly humid climates, where most (but not all) injuries have taken place.
Takata Ordered to Consider More Recalls
Fox Business notes in its report that such a direct order from Japan’s transport ministry to a carmaker is rare. The ministry usually takes more of a back seat role, allowing the company to manage any issues, recalls, and replacements.
Yet Akihiro Ohta, the transport minister, told reporters the airbag problem is an important safety issue, and that the ministry had ordered Takata to study whether they should implement additional recalls in Japan. So far, the New York Times says, about 2.3 million have been recalled there, while the worldwide total is about 16 million.
Airbag Defect a Worldwide Problem
On December 5, 2014, according to ABC News, Masato Sahashi, director of the recall office at the transport ministry, noted that the Japanese recall system had been slow to respond to problems with Takata airbags, and needed to be updated to better protect public safety. He added that Japan and the U.S. are now working together on the issue, in the hopes of finding more answers soon.
Takata recalls have been implemented in a piecemeal fashion since 2001, when Isuzu first recalled vehicles for airbag repairs. Since then, other carmakers and the airbag maker have recalled a few thousand here and a few thousand there, with the same approach filtering throughout other countries in the world. The end result is that a lot of drivers were left unprotected for too long, while consumers remain confused about airbag safety issues.
The auto industry has become a global industry, with standardized parts available in many nations, and carmakers selling to millions around the world. That makes component problems a worldwide issue.
NHTSA Urges Consumers to Respond to Recalls
Airbags were one of the most significant safety mechanisms added to vehicles over the last few decades, but this issue with Takata has left many consumers a little nervous when it comes to what’s behind the steering wheel.
In certain rare conditions, Takata airbags can explode upon deployment, scattering metal and plastic fragments into the interior of the car. Some of these “shrapnel” can puncture skin and eyes, causing serious and sometimes deadly injuries. The NHTSA urged consumers in October to respond immediately to any recall notices, to get these defective components replaced.
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