NHTSA Issues Rare Safety Alert over Exploding Airbags

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) took the unusual step of issuing an urgent warning to the 4.7 million owners of vehicles with Takata airbags installed. This unusual step was spurred by increasingly troubling revelations regarding defective inflators installed in Takata airbags. The NHTSA wrote, “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urges owners of certain Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, and General Motors vehicles to act immediately on recall notices to replace defective Takata airbags.”

While the NHTSA’s announcement did not elucidate the agency’s reasoning for taking this step, the recall re-notification notices sent by Toyota may offer a window into the agency’s motivations. The Toyota notice explains that there appears to be a link between high-humidity environments and airbag inflator explosions. That is, cars, trucks and SUVs with Takata airbags that are operated in high-humidity environments appear to more susceptible to this problem. While northwest Arkansas is not the most humid part of the country, its humidity is above the national average. People in Arkansas and throughout the region should take this NHTSA warning extremely seriously due to the potentially fatal consequences.

What is the problem with Takata airbags?

Since June, NHTSA has been investigating problems with Takata airbags that have been installed in vehicles produced by many major automakers. This inquiry has focused on airbags that do not deploy properly or they deploy with too much force. Currently affected vehicles include Toyota Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia, Tundra, and Vibe models. Affected Honda models include the 4 and 6 cylinder Accord, the Civic, CR-V, Element and Odyssey. Nissan, Mazda, BMW and General Motors also have numerous vehicles impacted by the Takata airbag recall. If you drive a vehicle manufactured by one of the foregoing companies, please visit the NHTSA’s announcement for a full listing of vehicles. If your vehicle is affected, do not delay in contacting the manufacturer for repairs.

What fatalities have occurred thus far?

While counts have varied it appears that there are, at least, 5 known fatalities due to exploding Takata airbags.  While the proffered reasons for this defect have ranged from chewing gum being present in the airbag to rusting and use of incorrect parts, the mechanism of injury and death appears to be substantially similar across these accidents. In most situations, injuries from a relatively minor crash were significantly exacerbated by lacerations to the throat caused by shrapnel produced by internal parts of the airbag being ejected. These accidents include:

  • Ashley Parham, Midwest City — On May 27, 2009, Parham was driving a 2001 Honda Accord across a high school parking lot in Midwest City, Oklahoma. She struck another vehicle which caused the airbag to deploy. The airbag launched metal shrapnel into her neck. The death of this 18-year-old driver serves as a reminder that the defect can occur in areas where humidity isn’t present, but not extreme.
  • Hien Thi Tran, Orlando — A Sept. 29 claimed the life of a 46-year-old Hien Thi Tran who had recently immigrated to the United States from Vietnam. She suffered severe neck wounds that initially appeared to be stab wounds. Due to the type of wounds the matter was initially investigated as a homicide. Investigators concluded that she was fatally wounded when her Honda Accord’s airbag deployed which sent metal fragments flying out of the air bag and into her throat.
  • Gurjit Rathore, Virginia – 33-year-old Gurjit Rathore bled to death in front of her children after a minor car accident caused the airbag in her Honda Accord to deploy and it exploded. The deflating airbag pulled the piece of shrapnel back out of her throat leaving a fatal injury that closely resembled a stabbing wound.
  • Devin Xu, Los Angeles — 47-year-old Devin Xu was killed when his car lurched forward in a bank parking lot striking 3 cars and a building before coming to rest. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department report stated that the “apparent facial trauma due to foreign object inside air bag” contributed to his death. Also of note is that Los Angeles is not typically considered to have an especially humid climate.

These injuries are, simply put, incredibly tragic and unnecessary losses of life. It seems that NHTSA, car manufacturers and the public are finally beginning to realize the massive scope of this Takata exploding airbag problem.

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For more than 20 years Ken Kieklak has fought for Arkansans injured by companies who put profits over the health and safety of Americans. To schedule your free and confidential consultation call (479) 251-7767 or contact us online

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