By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.
Gordon Trowbridge, Director of Communications for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, announced an expansion of recalls relating to defective drivers’ side air bag inflators, estimating that the number of vehicles affected could be as high as five million. During a phone conference conducted on Friday, January 22, 2016, Trowbridge said he expected Takata to file two new defect reports on the heels of an investigation revealing that a ninth fatality was linked to the rupture of a Takata SDI driver side air bag. Globally, there have been 10 deaths linked to these defective inflators.
SDI inflators. The first defect report involves SDI single stage inflators containing ammonium nitrate and follows NHTSA’s investigation into the fatal crash of a 2006 Ford Ranger that occurred in late December 2015. The attorney for the driver’s family notified NHTSA that an air bag rupture may have been involved. After testing conducted by Takata and NHTSA’s own review of accident photos, the police report, and the coroner’s findings, the agency agreed that this fatality was linked to a defective inflator. Hence, under the provisions of the November 2015 consent order, NHTSA directed Takata to take immediate action to expand its current recalls to include an estimated 1 million vehicles involving not only Ford Ranger pick-up trucks but also Mazda pick-ups based on the Ford Ranger frame, some Volkswagen, Audi and Saab vehicles and a small number of Daimler vans.
To provide some historical background, Trowbridge explained that in October 2014, following a fatal rupture of an air bag installed in a Honda vehicle in Malaysia, NHTSA had directed Ford to recall 2004-2005 Ford Rangers and to return the inflators for testing. Of the 1900 inflators tested, none had ruptured. In addition, 1600 of the inflators were subject to more strenuous pressure testing and none of them revealed any pressure anomalies that would indicate a risk of rupture. Although there was no reason for the rupture, the occurrence of a fatality necessitated that NHTSA insist that Takata take immediate action to expand the recalls. Trowbridge further noted that Ford Ranger pick-up trucks are under recall for replacement of passenger side air bags equipment with Takata inflators.
PSDI5 inflators. The second defect report involves PSDI5 dual-stage model drivers’ side inflators using a non-desiccated propellant. This defect report is based on findings recently reported to NHTSA by Toyota and Takada following testing of inflators taken from RAV4 vehicles repaired in Florida. According to the report, three inflators had ruptured during testing. Although Trowbridge was not yet certain what makes and model vehicles would be affected by this second recall, he estimated that as many as 4 million Volkswagen, BMW, Honda, and Mercedes Benz vehicles could be involved.
Size of recalls. Trowbridge also refused to put an exact number to the extent of the most recent vehicle, stating that until he has the defect reports from Takata, the exact details will not be known. He did suggest that tens of millions of inflators containing ammonium nitrate are still not subject to recall and emphasized that all inflators containing the chemical must be tested. When asked whether the root cause had been identified, Trowbridge admitted that there was as yet no definitive cause, but stated that the lack of a definitive cause would not stop the agency from acting in the best interests of public safety. With regard to determining the exact number of vehicles that have not yet been identified as subject to recall, Trowbridge remained adamant that the focus should be on completing the repairs and replacing the defective air bag inflators as quickly and safely as possible.
In concluding his prepared remarks, Trowbridge stated that the announced actions reemphasized that this massive safety crisis was precipitated by Takata’s manufacture of millions of defective inflators, followed by Takata providing incomplete, misleading or inaccurate information to NHTSA, Takata’s customers, and the public regarding the safety of these inflators. He pledged that NHTSA would continue to use all tools at its disposal to “clean up this mess” as quickly and as safely as possible.
MainStory: TopStory MotorVehiclesNews MotorEquipmentNews
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