It’s a scary thought but some of the companies we depend most on for our safety keep secrets, cut corners, and allow defective products out the door in the name of profit. In what has to be the biggest “Oh crap” move in recent history, airbag maker Takata has finally admitted its airbags were defective. That move alone almost doubled the amount of cars on the recall list. We’re talking a massive amount of cars here. It is estimated that 1 in 7 cars has a Takata airbag that needs replaced.
Let’s give a little history here. Takata is one of the largest makers of airbags in the world. Companies like Honda, Nissan, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and BMW all made cars that used Takata airbags. The company has had issues with their airbags for almost 15 years. In 2000, there were multiple complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of customers with rupturing airbags. In 2004, Takata ordered tests on their product and found evidence of the defect, that could be fatal, and did not report it.
Let that sink in for a moment. This company, that was trusted with creating a device that was suppose to save it’s customers in the event of an accident, knowingly allowed a defect in their product to go out, unreported, for over 11 years!
The airbags in question explode because of improper manufacturing, coupled with exposure to moisture in humid regions. The chemicals that trigger the deployment of the airbag can degrade over time, causing the propellant to burn too intensely. This leads to the casing exploding, sending shrapnel flying into the interior of the car. So far there have been 6 deaths and over 100 injuries tied to Takata airbag explosions.
We still don’t have the full story. Even with Takata finally admitting to the defect, there are still questions that don’t have answers. The main one is, why did it take Takata so long to report the defect? Up until Tuesday of this week, they were refusing to assist in the investigation by federal safety regulators, even going so far as to dispute the agency’s claims.
I completely agree with Senator Bill Nelson from Florida who said, “Folks shouldn’t have to drive around wondering if their airbag is going to explode in their face or if their car is going to be on another recall list”.
But more than Takata is responsible for the issues that lead to the deaths of 6 people and injured many others. Yes, Takata should have reported the issue in 2004, but the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the company and its airbags in 2009. The case was closed 6 months later citing “insufficient evidence” as its reason for closing the case.
Two issues with this: First, we know that Takata knew their airbags had issues for 5 years before this investigation. Why couldn’t the NHTSA find the same evidence? It’s been reported that Takata changed their manufacturing processes in 2008 to address the issue. The investigation should have discovered this information and asked hard questions about why the company would decide to change that specific process for its product.
Second, we need harsher standards for how this government agency works. There have been multiple complaints about the NHTSA and their laxness in monitoring its industry. This recall is a wake up call for us.
Of course, I realize that it’s easy to ask these questions now, when the information has come to light. I’m not trying to say that the NHTSA didn’t do its job. Takata is a Japanese company, and therefore not accountable to our government. It could not have been an easy job. However, giving up after only 6 months seems premature; there was clear evidence that their airbags had major problems, all the way back to 2000.
Takata blatantly lied for over 10 years to our government, our companies, and to us. Even as people were being killed and injured by products they knew were defective, they refused to admit their products were at fault.
Now, we finally getting somewhere with them. But is it the real story? Looking at their history, we have to question Takata’s motives in admitting the problem. Why delay? Were they destroying evidence that would reveal the extent of the problem? Why, after 15 years of hiding this problem, come forward now?
Senator Nelson is right but it goes so far beyond that. This recall represents a massive issue in the way safety has been handled in this country. All parties responsible need to be held accountable for the deaths and injuries this defect has caused.
Please, take the time to see if your car is on the recall list. You can find the up-to-date list here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/is-your-takata-air-bag-under-recall/. You can also use the NHTSA’s Vin LookUp Tool to determine if your car is on the list: https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/.