WASHINGTON, D.C.: US auto safety regulators on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) ordered Japanese manufacturer Takata to recall between 35 and 40 million more airbags installed in US cars, in a push for the replacement of dangerously explosive inflators.
The decision came after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that the inflators are prone to ruptures that have been tied to 11 deaths worldwide, and adds to nearly 29 million Takata airbags already recalled.
The announcement represented an acceleration of planned recalls over the next three years as evidence of the reason behind the exploding inflators became more clear.
Investigators have tied accidents in which airbag inflators ruptured, sending shrapnel into car drivers and passengers, to the deterioration of the inflators’ ammonium nitrate propellant under high humidity and fluctuating heat conditions.
More than 100 incidents and 10 deaths have been tied to the issue in the United States.
The latest was a 17-year-old Texas teenager who died from injuries sustained on March 31, after her 2002 Honda Civic collided with another car, activating a defective Takata airbag.
“The science clearly shows that these inflators become unsafe over time, faster when exposed to humidity and variations of temperature,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind.
Rosekind pointed out that the previous recalls had already covered those inflator models specifically responsible for the known incidents.
The new recall, which will involve tens of millions of cars of a broad range of makes and models, covers additional Takata inflator types that do not include e a desiccant that absorbs moisture.
It will be phased in over the next three years, with the priority on those with the highest risk, based on the age of the inflators and their exposure to high temperatures and humidity.
NHTSA testing found that the service life expectancies of Takata inflators could vary from six years to 25 years, depending on the heat and humidity conditions.
The first airbags covered in the new recall will be those in hot and humid climates which would have shorter lifespans—generally the southern part of the United States—along with the oldest airbags in service in any region.
“This recall schedule ensures the inflators will be recalled and replaced before they become dangerous, giving vehicle owners sufficient time to have them replaced before they pose a danger to vehicle occupants,” Rosekind said.
In a statement Takata said it agreed to the expanded recalls, but it downplayed the possible dangers in the cars covered by the new action.
“Takata is not aware of any ruptures, in the field or in testing, in the inflator products in vehicles that would be covered by this new order, nor is Takata aware of any new data or scientific analysis that suggests any substantial risk with respect to such vehicles,” the company said.
It also stressed that all of its new inflators come with dessicant that mitigates against the heat and humidity effects.
The Takata case constitutes the largest ever safety recall in US history, the NHTSA said.
Last year the agency slapped Takata with a record $200 million fine for providing inadequate and inaccurate information about the problem airbags to regulators.