The Takata airbag defect is a problem that continues to make headlines and affect the lives of Americans across the nation. Unfortunately, many Americans are faced with the difficult and rather impossible choice of using their vehicle and risking death or serious injury or letting the vehicle sit idle in their driveway while they wait for a fix. For many people, letting a car or truck idle for months on end is simply not an option. Therefore, they set out in their car or truck equipped with a Takata airbag not knowing whether a minor fender bender or other ordinarily non-catastrophic accident will result in a fatal airbag deployment.
This is, unfortunately, the choice faced by millions of Americans. Furthermore, as we continue to gain a greater understanding of the airbag defect, it appears that even greater numbers of people are potentially affected by this defect.
Takata Airbag Defect Numbers Continue to Increase
The Takata airbag defect recall has expanded time and time again. First, the recall was extremely limited to only certain vehicle makes and models. Thereafter, the recall expanded to an array of automakers but was regional in nature and predominately limited to cars and trucks located in high humidity areas. Now, the recall has been expanded beyond these areas also including areas not typically associated with high humidity. Unfortunately, consumers meet an array of challenges when attempting to determine if their vehicle is equipped with a Takata inflator. To date, approximately 24 million vehicles have been recalled across 14 automakers.
To begin with, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s approach to recalls has been rather complex and confusing for many customers due to its piecemeal nature. In fact, Florida Senator Bill Nelson wrote that the method of recall selected by the agency “appears to be confusing many consumers.”
However, the consumer uncertainty continues well beyond this confusion created by NHTSA. It also extends to actions taken by the automakers whose vehicles are affected by the airbag inflator problem. For instance, certain automakers such as Ford and General Motors (GM) will not disclose whether the inflator in the car or truck is defective. Similarly, Nissan and Toyota would not disclose to the AP whether they would tell a consumer that their car was equipped with a Takata inflator.
Volkswagen Reportedly Resisted Expanded Airbag Recall
Additional problems for consumers were nearly created by Volkswagen who despite an emissions scandal and increasing evidence of the airbag defect’s seriousness, reportedly, resisted calls for Takata airbag recalls in its vehicles. The basis for Volkswagen’s resistance to the recall apparently stemmed from the auto manufacturer’s understanding of the defect. The letter from the automaker seems to be premised on an understanding of the defect that seems less and less likely. That is, Volkswagen appeared to believe that the problems with the inflator were only introduced at the manufacturing stage.
In its letter, Volkswagen mentions the problems regarding humidity control at both the Monclava, Mexico and La Grange, Georgia plants. Furthermore, the letter claims that humidity issues at the plants were resolved after air conditioning was installed in the plants in 2011, and 2005, respectively. VW further asserted that “Our understanding is that Takata’s Freiberg[,Germany] plant does not suffer from the same deficiencies.” Thus, Volkswagen claimed that since the company did not start using inflators manufactured in Mexico until 2012, vehicles prior to that date should not be subject to the recall.
Unfortunately, the company’s arguments appear to miss essential elements regarding current understanding of the defect. The problem appears to be more likely to occur when vehicles spend their service life in areas with high humidity. Furthermore, the defect has also occurred in areas where high humidity is seasonal, such as South Carolina. Thus while Volkswagen’s argument is appealing, it largely misses the point based on our current understanding of the defect and its causes. In any case, it is troubling that an automaker that is known for safety and already experiencing consumer trust issues would further gamble not only with the trust of their customers but also potentially with their safety.
Senators Call for Full Release of Airbag Data from Automakers
In light of continued resistance in both disclosure of the defect and agreement to recalls, Senators have proposed a legislative solution the ensure that consumers can make informed choices. Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have each urged NHTSA to take additional steps. They have asked the agency to force NHTSA to recall all inflators using ammonium nitrate as an inflator. Further, they have requested the public release of all vehicle makes and models that have used Takata airbags since 2000.
Experienced an accident or death of a loved one due to a Takata airbag defect? Contact the car accident lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm. To schedule a free and confidential consultation call us at (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.