The exploding airbag saga is not going away. We previously reported on this problem on October 21, 2014, in a post entitled "Lifesaver or Lethal Weapon?" on this site. But now, Japanese manufacturer Takata Corp. appears to be defying efforts of the National Highway Traffic Safety commission to recall the dangerous components nationwide.
Testifying before Congress today, company spokesman Hiroshi Shimizu insisted "I would drive a car with a Takata air bag." Skeptical lawmakers had to wonder how much he was paid to say that.
Takata wants to pass the risk and responsibility on to its client automakers in the United States, and have them decide whether to widen the recall to all cars nationwide or not. By one account, Honda has already agreed to do so. Facing that enormous expense, other car manufacturers are hesitating. Earlier this week,Toyota said it intends to ask the industry to hire an independent engineering company for testing of the suspect parts. General Motors, Nissan, Subaru, Chrysler and Ford initially agreed to cooperate and to share results so that they can evaluate potential recall repairs. But events may be moving too quickly for that. You can read more about this emerging story here. Separately, Takata's Shimizu told Congress the company will set up its own "independent quality assurance panel" to investigate the matter. Just how "independent" this panel would be will be is anyone's guess.
It sounds more like a battle of the experts is brewing. And lawsuits. With at least five deaths, and many injuries alleged to be caused by the problem, Takata is busy putting its legal team in place. The Wall Street Journal reports that former Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta will be among the hired hands.
Takata may be playing for time. Earlier reports indicated that it has insufficient replacement parts on hand to comply with the possible expanded NHTSA recall. Currently, the recall only covers regions of high humidity, because air humidity is thought to be factor in the fragmentation upon deployment. But the climate limitation is expected to change as the recall widens. And it should. If Florida is humid, what about North Carolina? Texas? California? And cars move around.
In the meantime, many consumers are taking precautions themselves, such as activating the PSIR switch that can turn off the supplemental restraint system ("SRS" the common acronym for airbags). But not all cars and trucks have a PSIR switch, or other suppression capability. If you have one of the millions of affected vehicles, check your manual or call the dealer.
Remember, whether or not your car has airbags, you should always use your seat belts anyway. It's time once again to heed the old jingle, "Buckle Up for Safety, Buckle Up."