The Japanese company’s exploding airbags have seriously injured their victims. Some died gruesome deaths. So far, they have killed at least 13 people worldwide, critically injuring scores of others in the United States and other countries. The airbags can explode even in minor collisions. Takata lied about the danger for years, only recently admitting to American authorities that its airbags pose a potentially fatal threat.
Takata airbags are now involved in the largest recall in automotive history, affecting 100 million cars worldwide made by 14 major auto manufacturers. According to Consumer Reports, their airbags will have to be replaced by 2019. Even if the cars’ owners respond to the recall immediately, they will have a lengthy wait for new airbags since they are in extremely short supply. Millions will learn the new cars they just bought were built with defective airbags.
U.S. government in June 2016: Stop driving these cars immediately
Meanwhile, the federal government has issued an urgent recall for vehicles with Takata airbags that are up to 16 years old, to CBS News. Its June 2016 report cited new tests “...have found that their Takata air bag inflators are extremely dangerous.” The CBS report lists these cars as exceptionally dangerous - 2001 and 2002 Honda Civics and Accords, the 2002and 2003 Acura TL, the 2002 Honda Odyssey and CR-V and the 2003 Acura CL and Honda Pilot.
In June 2016, CNN reported that “…new tests show the airbags have a 50% chance of exploding when deployed in an accident – compared to a 1% chance for other airbags.”
Takata Airbag victims can take legal action
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What makes the airbags explode?
When moisture collects inside a Takata airbag, it can easily explode. Fractured metal parts spray out of the airbags with lethal force like shrapnel in a bomb blast when they explode, severing arteries in some victims’ necks, killing them instantly.
Victims who survived Takata airbag explosions have suffered severe lacerations to the face and eyes. A Georgia man was killed when his car struck a cow that wandered into the road in front of his 2006 Ford Ranger in December 2015. According to The New York Times, he was the ninth U.S. victim of a Takata airbag explosion.
Rocket scientists finally discover reason for airbag explosions
In 1999, Takata switched from a synthetic propellant to a natural propellant - ammonium nitrate - which was far less expensive, but far more volatile. An internal memo about the propellant written by a Takata engineer stated that ammonium nitrate “predisposes this propellant to break apart” and that “someone will be killed” if it is used in Takata airbags. The engineer left Takata in 1999. He has testified before federal authorities in the United States about the lack of “safety of ammonium nitrate.”
For years, Takata’s exploding airbags puzzled auto makers and regulators. Finally, scientists hired by 10 automakers, whose cars were equipped with Takata’s defective airbags, spent a year studying the cause of the sudden, deadly explosions. Their company, Orbital ATK builds rocket engines. The scientists spent 20,000 hours working on the problem. They found the explosions had three causes: ammonium nitrate, humidity, and design and manufacturing problems. The company was hired by BMW, Fiat-Chrysler, Honda, Ford, General Motors, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota.
New discoveries point to a Takata cover up
In February 2016, the U.S. Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation condemned Takata for “…manipulating safety testing data….” to hide the terrifying defect in its airbags. The charges are based on internal Takata documents from 2004 to 2010. They revealed that Takata kept manipulating test data even after the U.S. government first began recalling cars equipped with the company’s airbags.
Auto makers still putting deadly devices in new cars
Some new models of Toyotas, VWs, Fiat Chryslers and Mitsubishis are currently being outfitted and sold with defective Takata airbags that will need to be recalled in a few more years, according to the Senate report. Most buyers of these new cars had no idea until recently that they were getting cars with a potential bomb in the steering wheel.
Why are Takata airbags still being installed in new cars?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is permitting automakers to “…equip model years already in production with the defective Takata airbags, including a version of the airbag that does not contain a drying agent,” according to a report in early June 2016 in The New York Times. Neither Takata nor the auto makers putting Takata airbags in new cars are required to inform buyers of the potential danger posed by the older airbags or the newer versions with a drying agent.
NHTSA has ruled that new Takata airbags with a “drying agent” do not have to be recalled until 2018. The government transportation agency called the new airbags “safe for now” because the drying agent will protect the ammonium nitrate inside the bags for “a longer period of time.” But the new bags can still explode once the drying agent reaches the end of its life span.
SOURCES FOR THIS WAYNE WRIGHT ARTICLE
The U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, 02/23/2016
National Public Radio (NPR)
The New York Times