Thousands of vehicles are still driving on Virginia roads every day with recalled airbags from the Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata. The airbags, manufactured from the mid-1990s through 2015, have a defect that causes the inflator inside to explode on impact and send metal shards out with the airbag. To date, over 200 injuries and 17 deaths have occurred in the U.S alone as a result of this defect. A nationwide recall was ordered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in November of 2014, but as of January 2020, almost 16 million cars remain on the roads with these defective airbags.
What Makes the Takata Airbag Defective?
The root cause of the airbag defect lies with the product’s inflator. Takata’s manufacturing process involved loading the metal inflator with an ammonium-nitrate propellant. Unfortunately, a chemical drying agent was not added to the propellant, making these airbags a ticking time bomb when exposed to high temperatures, environmental moisture, and aging over time. In the event of a crash, the propellant may ignite on impact, shattering the metal inflator and propelling those shards directly at the driver and passengers of the car. Takata was the second largest airbag manufacturer in the world, supplying parts to major automakers like Honda, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, and BMW. The recall has grown to include 63 million airbags from over 42 million vehicles in the U.S.
Timeline of the Recall
Although the national recall by the NHTSA occurred in 2014, the effects of Takata’s faulty airbags date back to the early 2000s. According to a criminal settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, a Takata executive admitted in May 2004 to manipulating testing data on the inflators.
By 2012, Takata revealed they failed to clarify inaccurate information regarding the airbags to auto safety regulators, and in 2014 the NHTSA opened a formal investigation into Takata along with the nationwide recall. At that point, Toyota, Honda, and other major automakers complied with the nationwide recall as a fifth driver was killed by an exploding airbag.
By 2015, Takata had officially declared its airbags defective, and recalled over 34 million vehicles, effectively turning this case into the largest recall event in United States’ history. Auto makers continued to investigate what vehicle makes and models had the faulty airbags installed and recalled those cars.
By 2017, Takata had been found guilty of criminal wire fraud for covering up the engineering defects of its airbags and were required to pay $1 billion in settlement fees, including $25 million in punitive damages, $125 million to a victim settlement fund, and $850 million to auto manufacturers.
Currently, more than 15.9 million airbags have yet to be repaired.
Who Does This Airbag Recall Affect in Virgina?
Many of the largest auto manufacturers in the world relied on Takata to supply airbags for their vehicles. Millions of cars across the United States have these defective airbags installed, so it is important for owners to find out if their vehicle is one of them. To learn if a vehicle has a recalled airbag, enter the vehicle’s VIN number on the NHTSA’s Recall Look-up Tool.
As for who is most susceptible to injuries from these airbags, the NHTSA’s investigation into Takata has found that warm temperatures and high humidity are two main factors in causing the airbag inflator to rupture. Owners whose vehicles are, or have previously been registered in states such as Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and other warm southern states have the highest risk for injury. More temperate states like Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania show less of a risk.
“Even if you are not located in a higher risk area such as Florida or Georgia, you should still check to see if your vehicle has a Takata airbag that needs to be replaced” said Attorney Jim Hurley of Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers. “With the risk of your airbag taking your life instead of saving it, it doesn’t make sense for a driver to continue using their vehicle with a hazardous defect when they can get it fixed for free. If you have an older car that may be affected, you should take the time to further investigate whether your car’s airbag is part of the recall.”
The defective airbags manufactured by Takata are ticking time bombs. Although Takata has been charged for their crimes, the danger of these airbags is still present. To prevent further death and injuries, it is imperative for vehicle owners to find out if their car’s airbag is a part of the recall.