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Regulators Confirm 10th Death Linked with Takata Air Bags

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Federal regulators have confirmed a 10th death linked to defective Takata air bags.

The victim was driving a Ford Ranger in South Carolina in December 2015, when he swerved to avoid an obstacle, ran off the road, and struck another obstacle. Instead of deploying as expected, the air bag exploded, sending pieces of shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle. An autopsy report revealed that the man died from a piece of shrapnel that penetrated his neck.

Investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), along with police and family representatives, were able to confirm the death was caused by an exploding Takata air bag inflator. Based on this accident and tests on Takata air bag inflators, the NHTSA announced additional air bag recalls, covering 5 million additional air bag inflators.

Yet More Takata Air Bag Recalls to Come?

Soon after the news became public, Takata’s shares fell to their lowest level in almost seven years, according to Bloomberg. As the number of recalls continues to climb, questions remain as to Takata’s viability. Honda stated that it had been invited to a January 29, 2016 meeting with the company to address its future business plans.

Automakers affected by this recent round of recalls include Ford, Mazda, Saab, Honda, Volkswagen, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz.

Unfortunately, this may not be the end of the issue. As Takata and other independent investigators continue to test the safety of not only driver’s side air bags, but passenger side air bags, and even side air bags, more recalls may be ordered to replace air bag inflators that may be at risk of exploding. The NHTSA expects there are more vehicles on the road with defective air bags that have not yet been recalled.

“The agency is using all the tools available to clean up this mess as quickly and safely as possible,” said spokesperson Gordon Trowbridge, according to AP News. “We know that the challenge is likely to get significantly bigger….It is daunting.”

Will Takata Survive?

As the number of Takata lawsuits continues to climb, there are questions as to whether the company will survive this scandal. Many of their top customers, including Honda, have stated that they will no longer use Takata air bags in their vehicles. Back in November 2015, the NHTSA ordered Takata to pay $70 million in fines, with another $130 possible if the company doesn’t implement a series of improvements by the specified deadlines.

The company has also already settled a number of Takata air bag lawsuit with victims, but there are many more pending in court. Last November, according to Money, Takata announced a net loss of $46.3 million for the first half of its 2016 fiscal year. It forecast a $250 million loss for the entire year. The company is also still under a criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for its mishandling of the air bag issue. The result is likely to be more cash penalties.

Cause of Air Bag Explosions Still Uncertain

Meanwhile, identifying additional vehicles that may need to have their air bag inflators replaced remains somewhat of a guessing game since it’s still not clearly understood what causes some of them to explode. The NHTSA has required Takata to phase out their use of ammonium nitrate, the chemical used in their propellant, because it is known to be potentially unstable in areas of high temperature and high humidity.

Older vehicles that “live” in warmer, tropical areas are thought to be at the highest risk of air bag rupture, and it is these vehicles that companies are focused on repairing first. Other repairs will be made as parts become available, which has also proved a challenge. Some automakers have recruited other companies to manufacturer replacement parts, to meet the high demand.

Still, despite all the testing and gathering of evidence, there still is no definitive cause of the explosions, which means that automakers are spreading a wide blanket when implementing recalls.