Washington — Honda Motor Co. said late Thursday it is investigating whether a sixth death may be linked to a faulty Takata air bag in a 2002 Accord.
The automaker’s statement came an hour after Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in a speech on the Senate floor that another death may be linked to faulty Takata air bags that can explode and shoot metal fragments at drivers and passengers. Nelson’s office confirmed it was the same car.
Honda said no cause of death has been determined in the Jan. 18 crash in Houston and the automaker hasn’t been able to inspect the car to confirm if the inflator ruptured. “We are currently working with representatives of the driver’s family to gain the access necessary to conduct a comprehensive investigation,” Honda said.
The automaker said it has notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the death. The car was recalled in 2011 for the driver’s front air bag inflator. Honda’s records show the repair was never completed.
Nelson said the death involved a Texas driver who was driving his 11-year-old cousin when the car was involved in a low-speed crash. His office confirmed he was referring to a report by the Montgomery County Police Reporter website that a 35-year-old man had died, while the 11-year-old was not injured. “We are awaiting more information from Takata. We’re determined to get to the bottom of this,” Nelson said.
The death would be the first disclosed since November, and could draw new attention to the problem. There are still millions of vehicles with Takata air bags that have not been recalled. And millions of unrepaired recalled vehicles are on the road, either awaiting replacement parts or because owners haven’t take them in for repairs.
In a statement, Takata said, “Our heartfelt condolences go out to the driver’s family. The incident cited involved a vehicle that had been previously recalled, and we are working in close collaboration with Honda to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the vehicle’s status at the time of the incident. Takata’s number one priority is the safety of the driving public.”
NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said the agency was awaiting information from Honda. He encouraged all car owners to go to safercar.gov and enter their vehicle’s vehicle identification number to check for outstanding recalls — and for owners who receive recall notifications from manufacturers to get repairs made.
Honda has faced intense scrutiny because of problems with the air bags. The company said it now confirms 52 injuries in the U.S. linked to Hondas with Takata air bags, and three deaths. A fourth suspected death in California remains under investigation, as does the death in Texas. Honda also has confirmed a death in Malaysia is linked to a defective Takata air bag.
It has recalled more than 9 million vehicles in seven separate campaigns since 2008 for defective Takata air bags.
In total, 10 automakers have now recalled more than 14.5 million vehicles with Takata bags since 2013.
Earlier this month, Honda agreed to pay a $70 million fine — the largest auto safety fine in U.S. history — for failing to disclose more than 1,700 reports of deaths, injuries and other “early warning” information to NHTSA over more than a decade.