Why Did Toyota Expand its Takata Airbag Recall as NHTSA Resists a Further Expansion of the Program?

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Like a number of the major auto defects that emerged in 2014, the Takata defect was allowed to take root and develop into a major problem over the course of more than a decade. The cause of the defect has been linked to long-term exposure to hot and humid climates, defective inflator housing that can allow moisture to seep in, and an ammonium nitrate compound lacking a desiccant. A recent report, commissioned by a consortium of major automakers, identified these factors as the cause of airbags that deploy with too much force. These defective airbags launch metal shrapnel from the inflator housing in the head, face, and neck of drivers. There are at least 10 known deaths caused by this defect including one case where fatal injuries inflicted by the metal projectiles were initially believed to have been the product of a homicide.

The ensuing recall has recently resulted in a storm of controversy. Revelations related to the discovery that the defect is likely to become more likely with the passage of time continues to expand the defect. Recently Senators have also called on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to expand the recall to include all vehicles that have Takata ammonium nitrate airbags installed. However, despite frequent expansions of the program by automakers, NHTSA has resisted calls by Senators to make the recall universal.

What Vehicles Were Added to the Toyota Recall?

Toyota had previously recalled an array of its popular vehicle models due to the inclusion of Takata-produced airbags. Previous recalls of Toyota vehicles included the 2003 through 2007 Corolla and Corolla Matrix. Also included in previous recalls was the 2004 and 2005 RAV4, the 2003 through 2006 Tundra, and 2002 through 2007 Sequoia and Lexus SC.

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The expanded recall was announced on March 2, 2016. It expands the recall to cover newer models of many of the vehicles listed above. Toyota states that it added the new vehicles to the recall based on information received from Takata. Newly added models include the 2008 Corolla and Corolla Matrix and the 2008 through 2010 Lexus SC430. The recall covers 331,000 vehicles. Approximately 200,000 of the vehicles are located in the United States.

Why Has NHTSA Failed to Recall all Takata Airbags Using Ammonium Nitrate?

Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey have both campaigned on behalf of a universal recall of all potentially deadly ammonium nitrate propellant airbags since August 2015. In early February 2016, the Senators expressed the potentially deadly consequences of this defect and their desire for a comprehensive recall in a letter to President Obama.

Senators Markey and Blumenthal are not the only Senators calling for a comprehensive nationwide recall on the airbags. A recent report authored by staffers for Senator Bill Nelson titled, Total Recall: Internal Documents Detail Takata’s Broken Safety Culture and the Need for a More Effective Recall Process, detailed alleged lapses in the company’s safety culture and manipulations of testing data at the firm. Nelson characterized the recall by the NHTSA as confusing and ineffective.

Despite these calls by the senators, NHTSA has resisted a broader recall. Recent statements by NHTSA Administrator Mark R. Rosekind, agency Administrator, indicated that “A blanket recall of all inflators would be easier to explain, but it would not serve safety and could run the risk of exceeding N.H.T.S.A.’s statutory authority.” The agency has decided to approach this defect by recalling only the oldest airbags that are at the highest risk of the defect occurring. A lack of replacement parts and Takata’s decision to use a similar compound with an added drying agent may also factor into NHTSA’s approach to this recall.

However, the agency’s approach may only delay the inevitable. Under terms of the November 2015 consent order signed by the company, Takata has until 2018 to prove that the compound is safe. Furthermore, the company has until 2019 to show that the newer version of the ammonium nitrate compound that includes the desiccant is safe. If the automaker fails to show that these compounds are safe, it will be required to recall the airbags.

Injured by Defective Airbag or Vehicle? Contact the Car accident lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm

If you have been injured by a defective product such as a Takata airbag, a defective vehicle, or another improperly designed or manufactured product you undoubtedly know about the pain, suffering, and hardships these injuries can cause. For more than 35 years, Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians have trusted the product liability and personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm to fight for them. To schedule a free and confidential consultation call (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.

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