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Newfoundland Crash Raises Questions about ARC Air Bags

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Takata air bag recalls have affected more vehicles than any other recall in history. The potentially defective air bags can explode upon deployment, sending shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle and causing knife-like wounds, hearing and vision loss, and sometimes excessive bleeding that leads to death.

So far, Takata air bags have been linked to at least 14 deaths and over 100 injuries. Automakers have recalled more than 60 million vehicles worldwide to replace the inflators. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed by plaintiffs seeking damages from the air bag supplier and from automakers.

Now, it looks like another air bag manufacturer has come under scrutiny. It happened after a ruptured air bag was linked to the death of a Canadian driver in July 2016. The air bag was not made by Takata this time, but by ARC Automotive.

Canadian Crash Linked to Potentially Defective ARC Air Bag

The New York Times reported that a Canadian woman was behind the wheel of a 2009 Hyundai Elantra when a low-speed collision occurred on July 8, 2016 in Newfoundland Canada. Instead of deploying as expected, the air bag exploded, causing the driver’s death.

A spokesman for Transport Canada, the Canadian auto safety regulator, said the crash was one from which the driver should have survived, had the air bags worked properly.

Investigators in both the U.S. and Canada are looking into the incident to determine whether another air bag recall should be implemented. The air bag was made by ARC Automotive Inc., which has its headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee.

It’s not yet clear what caused the inflator to blow apart. Studies have indicated that Takata air bag inflators seemed to explode because of an unstable chemical in the inflator (ammonium nitrate) combined with prolonged exposure to heat and humidity, with older vehicles “living” in hot, humid states believed to be most at risk.

The ARC inflator also uses a small amount of ammonium nitrate, but authorities don’t believe the chemical is to blame in this case. They are looking instead at a potential manufacturing problem that may have blocked a vent, which would have prevented gas from escaping and resulted in the explosion.

Two Other Incidences Potentially Related to ARC Inflators

It may be that the Canadian crash isn’t the only one linked with exploding ARC air bags. In 2009 in Ashtabula, Ohio, a woman was involved in a collision in her Chrysler Town & Country minivan, after which her husband wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) that she was hurt by shrapnel when her air bag deployed.

He told the administration in a letter that the shrapnel went into her chest and chin, and broke her jaw in three places. Only the fast actions of the ambulance crew saved her life.

There was another incident with a Kia Optima sedan in 2004, as well, according to the Times. Both of these together prompted an investigation last year, and with the new Canadian crash, that investigation has intensified, and now includes an engineering analysis.

Will There Be an ARC Airbag Recall?

If investigators determine that there’s something wrong with these ARC inflators, a subsequent recall could affect as many as 8 million vehicles made by General Motors, Chrysler, Kia, and Hyundai.

Questions remain, however, as the ARC inflator involved in the Newfoundland crash was made in China. It’s unknown at this time whether any of the same inflators were used here in the U.S.