Ohio Valley, West Virginia

HomeWest VirginiaOhio Valley

Email Eric T. Chaffin Eric T. Chaffin on Twitter Eric T. Chaffin on Facebook Eric T. Chaffin on Avvo
Eric T. Chaffin
Eric T. Chaffin
Attorney • (888) 480-1123

NHTSA Expands Air Bag Investigation to Include Newer Model and Side Air Bags

Comments Off

So far, Takata air bag recalls have been limited to front-seat driver and passenger air bags, as these were the ones that were found, in some instances, to potentially explode upon deployment. When the air bags exploded, they sent dangerous shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle, killing eight people and injuring over 100.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however, recently announced that it was expanding its investigation to include side air bags, as there is now a chance that they, too, may potentially explode. The NHTSA first became aware of that potential this past summer, when it received reports describing a side air bag rupture in a Volkswagen Tiguan.

This report also raised concerns because the vehicle was a model 2015—not one of the older models included in the current Takata recalls. Because of this report, the NHTSA is also now investigating newer model vehicles for air bag defects, which could eventually result in further expansion of existing vehicle recalls.

Takata Expands Recalls, but it May Not Be Enough

Until this last June, 2015, Takata limited its recalls to regional areas of the United States, insisting that it was only in hot, humid areas that its air bags could potentially explode. Takata’s tests on the devices had shown that a manufacturing defect, combined with age, heat, and humidity, could potentially cause changes in the air bag inflator that would result in an explosion.

Experts have questioned this logic for a long time, stating that some of the explosions happened in areas that were not particularly hot or humid. The NHTSA pushed Takata to expand its recalls last year, but the company refused, so automakers like Honda, Toyota, Chrysler, and others stepped up instead, recalling the vehicles and making repairs.

This past June, Takata issued a public apology for the air bag problems and expanded recalls to all 50 states. More than 19 million cars have been recalled to fix potentially defective air bags, according to the New York Times, and that’s only in the United States. Millions more have been recalled worldwide.

But that number could continue to expand if it is discovered that newer air bags, as well as side air bags, may also present a safety risk.

NHTSA Getting Closer to Blaming Ammonium Nitrate

Just recently, General Motors (GM) announced that they were recalling 400 vehicles because of air bags that did not pass Takata’s safety tests. Ammonium nitrate, the propellant Takata started using in 2001, is under continuing investigation. According to a 2014 New York Times report, as far back as 1995, a patent application filed by Takata “expressed concern over using the compound, saying that it was so vulnerable to temperature changes that its casing, under excessive pressure, ‘might even blow up.’”

Depending on the results of the NHTSA’s investigation, it may be that all air bags containing ammonium nitrate may eventually be recalled. It is not known at this time how many vehicles would be affected should such a recall be implemented.

Takata has repeatedly stated that the chemical is safe, and that only when it’s exposed to long-term heat and humidity is there a chance for an explosion. The recent incident with the Volkswagen questions that logic, however, since the vehicle was less than a year old.

So far all talk about ammonium nitrate has been speculation. For the longest time, Takata insisted it was manufacturing errors at the root of the issue. Now it seems that the NHTSA is getting closer to actually stating that it is the propellant that’s causing the problem. Stephen A. Ridella, director of the NHTSA’s office for vehicle crashworthiness, stated that the agency believes the air bags are malfunctioning at least partly because of the unstable chemical.

If it is determined that ammonium nitrate is unsafe, it could result in further problems, as some of the replacement air bags use the same chemical. According to the Times, as many as 70 percent of the replacements inflators are being made by companies other than Takata.