Following over a decade of reports of defective air bags, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued in October 2014 an urgent plea to more than 4.7 million people driving cars made by Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, General Motors and Ford to get their cars fixed.
The inflator mechanisms in the air bags made by Takata Corp. can rupture, causing metal fragments to fly out when the bags are deployed in crashes, and have been linked to at least four deaths and multiple injuries. Safety advocates say that more than 20 million vehicles in the U.S. are equipped with the faulty air bags.
Honda Files First Report of Air Bag Failure
Honda first reported to NHTSA the air bag failures in 2004 and settled confidentially with people injured by the air bags, but the automaker did not issue a safety recall until late 2008, and then for only about 4,200 of its vehicles found to be equipped with the potentially explosive air bags. In none of the four instances of ruptured air bags, did Honda go beyond the standard form and separately alert NHTSA that the air bags posed an explosion risk.
Honda Alerts Takata about Defect
In 2004, Honda alerted Takata about the air bag ruptures. Takata reported that it was unable to find the cause, but said it found an unusually high incidence of inflator failures along coastal areas with high humidity. Both Honda and Takata reported to NHTSA changing explanations about why the airbags continued to rupture. Federal regulators were also slow to react, and made a cursory follow up and closed the inquiry before Takata provided all of the relevant documents.
2014 Honda and Toyota Air Bag Recalls
In June 2014, Honda and six other automakers recalled over 3 million vehicles in some high humidity regions in the United States, as part of a “field action” requested by NHTSA to replace air bag inflators made by Takata in 2000-02.
On October 20, 2014, Toyota issued a recall covering Takata passenger air bags in 247,000 older model vehicles, including the Lexus SC, Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia and Tundra. The recall covered vehicles in South Florida, along the Gulf Coast, in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa—areas with high humidity. At that time, Takata was still trying to determine the cause of the defect.