Deaths by airbags lead to massive recall by auto companies, pt 2

In 2014, U.S. automakers will recall 50 million cars, if more recalls are not issued before the end of the year. The most recent recall, involving cars equipped with Takata airbags, has had a long history.

The New York Times reported a month ago that Honda had been slow in acting when the evidence began to show that there was a serious problem with the airbags in some of its cars. The company knew of a case from 2004 but dismissed it as an “anomaly.” It wasn’t until late 2008 that it recalled any vehicles, and then, it was a paltry 4,200 vehicles.

Honda demonstrated intransigence in reporting the defect, and they have had nine recalls related to this issue before this week’s announcement. The foot dragging has exposed millions of drivers to the risk airbags exploding during a crash and has created the crisis of insufficient parts being on hand to repair the defective airbags in such a massive number of vehicles.

Had they responsibly recalled vehicles earlier, there would have been millions fewer potentially dangerous vehicles on the road, and some people, like the woman who died in Florida at the beginning of this month, would still be alive.

What is disturbing is both the piecemeal nature of the recalls and the failure on behalf of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to order the recall. Voluntary recalls, as has been demonstrated by the GM ignition switch debacle, and which has now been linked to 29 deaths, have been shown to be ineffective at protecting the driving public.

The woman’s death in Florida also is problematic, as she had purchased a used car, which was subject to a recall in 2009, but was not repaired. The Times points out that there is no law that requires recalled used cars be repaired before they can be sold.

Sadly, regulatory oversight of the automotive industry has been nearly as defective as many items from the industry and public confidence in the products of the automakers will continue to erode if it is not made more robust.

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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