Deaths by airbags lead to massive recall by auto companies, pt 1

In the last few years, we have seen the remarkable success of vehicle safety advancements. Along with campaigns to reduce drunk driving and better highway design, overall traffic fatalities have been reduced to the lowest levels in 70 years and fatalities per mile driven have reached record lows.

We have some a long way from the days of metal dashboards with bias-ply tires and drum brakes. We now have seat belts, airbags, radial tires with sophisticated ABS disc brakes, stability control, and systems that can keep a vehicle in a lane and automatically brake when other vehicles become too close.

These systems can keep us safe, as long as everything works. If some part of the system is defective, it may increase the likelihood of injuries or death by causing accidents. This scenario has played out recently with the unintended acceleration problem with Toyota and the GM ignition switch defect.

This week, numerous auto manufacturers led by Honda announced a recall that is due to the airbags in some vehicles exploding and spraying the passenger compartment with metal shrapnel.

The New York Times reports on the most recent victim, a women who died in a collision in Florida where her airbag created neck wounds that left police wondering if she had been stabbed in the neck.

Metal shards from the defective airbag canister caused the wounds. The airbag, manufactured by Takata have been tied to three deaths and the most recent death triggered a recall of at least 14 million vehicles that have had the airbags installed during the last decade.

Honda is recalling more than 2.8 million vehicles, but it and other auto manufacturers are having problems obtaining sufficient numbers of parts to fix the defective airbags.

Highest priority is areas with high humidity, which appears to contribute to the likelihood of the airbag exploding.

Next time, we will look at this recall in the context of what is likely to be a record year for vehicle recalls in the U.S.

The New York Times, “It Looked Like a Stabbing, but Takata Air Bag Was the Killer,” Hiroko Tabuchi and Christopher Jensen, October 20, 2014

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