Air bags, among the most important safety components in vehicles, are increasingly becoming a major concern for automakers and regulators from a product liability and safety standpoint. A global airbag recall is being broadened because of concerns that airbags in certain vehicles may spontaneously deploy and explode even though there is no car accident, injuring or killing drivers and passengers. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Ford, Chrysler, and BMW have announced global recalls involving over three million vehicles because their air bags, manufactured by Takata Corporation, could rupture and send debris exploding into vehicles. This new round of recalls were generated by an investigation the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently began after it received three complaints of injuries caused by the air bags.
Japan's Takata Corporation manufactured the airbags at the center of the vehicle recalls. The danger is that the airbags' inflators can possibly explode. Such an explosion can forcefully eject metal pieces into the vehicle's passenger compartment. The most serious risk occurs if the rupture occurs on the driver's side, where the metal shards are likely to explode straight at the driver after exiting the steering wheel. This issue, which has been known since at least 2007, has been associated with more than thirty injuries, some extremely serious and life-threatening, and two deaths.
Severe lacerations from sharp metal projectiles are not the only danger associated with these spontaneous explosions. Not only are the metal projectiles extremely dangerous by their very nature, but they are also extremely hot when they are ejected from the air bag assembly. Investigations after some spontaneous Takata airbag explosions have revealed that the metal shards are so hot at the time of the explosion that they can cause fires by striking areas inside the passenger compartment and burn skin, never mind merely lacerating it.
The vehicles that are part of the recall contain airbags that were manufactured between 2000 and 2002. Takata has admitted to U.S. safety investigators that the main cause of the safety issue was the handling and processing of the explosive material used to inflate Takata air bags at manufacturing plants in the United States and Mexico. Takata also acknowledges losing records related to that manufacturing process.
Takata Corporation has stated that it believes that excessive moisture was behind the defect. Similarly, Japanese regulatory officials suspect that moisture and humidity may be seeping inside the airbag inflators, which can destabilize the volatile propellant within the inflators. Takata has also acknowledged that it improperly stored chemicals and mishandled the manufacture of explosive propellants, used in the air bags, at its plant in Mexico.
NHTSA is continue to investigate the situation. “Based on the limited data available at this time, N.H.T.S.A. supports efforts by automakers to address the immediate risk in areas that have consistently hot, humid conditions over extended periods of time,” the agency said in a statement. Also, NHTSA, along with the seven vehicle manufacturers involved in the global recall, is conducting regional recall for the air bags in areas of high-humidity areas, such as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, and Florida.By Harley Erbe