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Takata Airbag Recalls May Outpace GM Ignition Switch Recalls

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General Motors (GM) has recalled more vehicles this year than any other carmaker in a single year, most over the ignition switch defect, but others due to power steering issues, and some because of air bag problems. The carmaker has suffered a significant blow to its reputation, as the public has become more aware of its slow and inadequate response to a key safety issue.

But now, it looks like another group of recalls may soon outpace GM’s—those involving Takata airbags. On October 22, 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urged car owners to take recall notifications seriously and get the defective airbags fixed. NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman stated, “Responding to these recalls, whether old or new, is essential to personal safety and it will help aid our ongoing investigation into Takata airbags and what appears to be a problem related to extended exposure to consistently high humidity and temperatures.”

Airbags May Explode, Injuring Occupants

The recalls started back in 2001. That year, Takata issued a recall related to airbag problems in Isuzu vehicles. In 2008, Honda Motor recalled 4,000 vehicles because of potentially defective Takata airbags. The next year, they recalled 510,000 more for the same reason, and in 2010, another nearly 450,000.

What’s wrong with these airbags? In a number of incidences, they don’t deploy correctly. Instead of inflating to protect the drivers and passengers in the vehicle, they explode with too much force, rupturing the container and blasting plastic and metal fragments onto the occupants. The resulting injuries can be serious, and even deadly.

Consumer Reports noted on November 7, 2014, that four deaths and more than 100 injuries have been linked to the problem. Takata sent a letter to NHTSA in June 2014, explaining factors they believed to be involved in the airbag explosions—processing issues during manufacturing combined with high levels of humidity.

That same month, Honda Motor and Nissan Motor recalled another 2.9 million vehicles globally because of potential Takata airbag problems, increasing the total number of related recalls over the past five years to about 10.5 million vehicles, according to Reuters.

Takata Agrees to “Regional” Replacements

At the time of the June 2014 recall, Takata says that production problems lead to malfunctioning air bag inflators made between 2000 and 2002. But the NHTSA is investigating air bags made after 2002 to see if they may also be defective as well, particularly in climates with high humidity.

Takata noted in its letter that it would replace certain driver-side air bag inflators “manufactured between January 1, 2004 and June 30, 2007,” as well as inflators for bags manufactured between June 2000 and July 31, 2004. The automaker added it would support replacement on specified vehicles (which includes those made by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota) only in Puerto Rico, Florida, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands, however, “based on the high levels of absolute humidity in those areas.”

Such a restriction, however, does not sound adequate to Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey. He told CBS News that only “regional” replacements “treats these cars like they never go anywhere, like they are never driven to another part of the country.”