Over the last five years I have written about the danger posed by Takata airbags on more than half a dozen occasions. Recently, an article in the Washington Post brought the issue back into focus.
As the newspaper chillingly puts it: “ten years after the biggest safety recall in US history began, Honda says there are more than 60,000 vehicles on the nation’s roads equipped with what experts have called a ‘ticking time bomb’”: defective air bags. As the Post explains, the bags were installed in “37 million vehicles built by 19 automakers. At least 22 people worldwide have been killed and hundreds more permanently disfigured when the airbags that deployed to protect them instead exploded and sprayed shrapnel.”
The company that manufactured these deadly air bags, a Japanese firm called Takata, was once one of the largest car parts suppliers on earth. In the years since the scandal emerged it has acknowledged that it knew about the dangers of its air bags for years before publicly acknowledging them and faced a $1 billion fine from the US Justice Department. Three of the company’s top executives face federal indictments here in the US but have not been extradited from their native Japan.
“Faced with spiraling debts estimated at $9 billion as a result of the air bag scandal, Takata declared bankruptcy last year,” The Post notes.
So why is this blog raising the alarm rather than flagging up a good news story? Takata may be crumbling under the weight of its legal woes and lost reputation, and there is an argument to be made that all this has become a lesson for the entire auto industry on the dangers of ignoring critical safety issues.
But despite years of public awareness campaigns and the issuance of numerous product recalls in the US and around the world (the first US recall of Takata products was initiated by Honda in 2008) hundreds of thousands of Takata-equipped vehicles remain on the roads, including many here in the US. The Post quotes Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the top Democrat on the committee investigating the scandal saying: “The latest data the committee has received from the automakers show that individual automaker recall completion rates are all over the place – and millions are still waiting for replacement airbags.”
A big issue is the fact that the problem goes so far back, in part due to Takata’s years of efforts to hide it from its automaker customers as well as the public. The faulty air bag mechanisms were installed in cars starting in 2000. Takata knew about the issue by 2002, but it was several more years before it acknowledged the problem and, as noted, the first US recall did not begin until 2008. Over that time millions of cars with the dangerous airbags were sold and resold and moved from state to state and from country to country. With each passing year the problem grew worse not only because of the growing number of dangerous vehicles coming onto the road, but because the problem with the airbag mechanisms, as we now know, tends to get worse as each individual car ages.
As a Portland attorney whose practice has long focused on car accidents and the danger posed by irresponsible drivers and companies I urge everyone reading this to take a moment to look up recall information for all of their vehicles. As noted above, Takata was once one of the largest airbag makers in the world, serving 19 different manufacturers (note: manufacturers, not individual brands). Whether your car was made in the US, Japan, Korea or Europe take a moment to follow the link below to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s SafeCar.gov website. There you can enter your car’s individual VIN number to find out not only whether it was subject to a Takata (or other) recall but, more importantly, whether the necessary recall work has actually been carried out.
No matter how busy you may be this weekend you owe it to yourself and your family to take a few minutes to check your car’s status.