Yesterday, Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, advised that the Takata airbag recall numbers “very likely to grow, perhaps by a lot.” So far, the recall impacts over 19M vehicles produced by 11 different companies.
Rosekind said, “The fact that this crisis festered for so long. That some made efforts to obscure its seriousness should sober everyone in this industry.”
Indeed, it should do so. Congress has called upon Takata executives to testify four times in the ongoing crisis. Allegations against the company include slow reaction time when problems became known and fighting NHTSA’s requests for faster recall expansion.
The crisis centers on older Takata airbags, whose inflators could catastrophically explode if exposed to and decayed by higher humidity. These inflator ruptures propel dangerous shrapnel into the vehicle cabin. To date, Takata airbag inflator ruptures have caused 8 U.S. deaths and one, a pregnant woman, in Malaysia. The ruptures are also responsible for over 100 serious injuries.
Rosekind is happy with the response from automakers. Ten of the 11 affected manufacturers got together in February 2015 and hired an independent engineering firm to investigate the airbag issue. They also chose David Kelly, former NHTSA Acting Administrator, to oversee the testing.
According to Rosekind, “This is proactive safety. It’s a model of how NHTSA hopes to work with industry in the future, and it’s going to protect the lives and safety of millions.”
Here’s hoping Mr. Rosekind is correct. The Takata crisis is one of the worst in the history of the industry. Preventing another such crisis should be the agency’s top priority.