Senators want air bag recall expanded
Washington — Two U.S. senators want the Transportation Department to demand a nationwide recall for millions of vehicles that may have defective air bags that could explode sending shrapnel into vehicles causing serious injuries or deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this week issued an urgent warning asking the owners of 7.8 million vehicles with vehicles recalled since 2013 for defective Takata air bag inflators to get them repaired. NHTSA’s focus is currently on high humidity states and whether exposure to moisture is prompting the problems. Most of the vehicles recalled — led by Honda Motor Co. with 5.1 million — have been in warm weather states.
NHTSA in June opened an investigation into 1.1 million vehicles to see if more should be recalled.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, wrote Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Thursday asking NHTSA to demand a nationwide recall.
“We believe that NHTSA should immediately issue a nationwide safety recall on all the affected cars, regardless of where the car is registered. In addition, your office should strongly encourage manufacturers to provide rental cars at no cost to consumers if their cars cannot be fixed immediately because of insufficient replacement parts,” the senators wrote.
In a telephone interview, Blumenthal questioned the automakers’ decision to narrowly limit recalls along geographic lines which he called arbitrary and “utterly senseless.” Blumenthal said NHTSA and Foxx haven’t yet responded.
“Automakers may have a lot of expertise, but they are not weather experts,” Blumenthal said, noting that some automakers cover states that others don’t. “I’m not prepared to put my life in the hands of car manufacturers making weather judgments. If these airbags are unsafe in Florida, they are also unsafe in Connecticut.”
NHTSA is working with Takata to get faster production of replacement airbags and to see if other manufacturers can provide parts. The agency warned that if a recall was national it would divert replacement parts away from the highest risk areas. NHTSA says its research currently does not show those who travel to these regions during periods of lower humidity — like part-time winter residents — are subject to the same level of risk due to reduced exposure to hot and humid conditions, but the investigation remains open.
“Our single mission is to protect the American people. We will leave no stone unturned as we continue our ongoing investigation into faulty Takata airbags that has resulted in millions of recalled vehicles. We have taken an aggressive and relatively unprecedented step by forcing a regional recall on limited information and we will not rest until we know the full geographic scope of the problem,” said Brian Farber, a spokesman for Foxx.
Blumenthal said the Northeast and Midwest often have periods of high humidity.
The recall covers vehicles from 10 automakers in the United States — and since 2008 automakers worldwide have recalled more than 16 million vehicles with defective Takata air bags.
Toyota Motor Corp. on Monday issued an urgent warning to its drivers and issued a new recall for 247,000 vehicles in high humidity states — including 28,000 vehicles that hadn’t previously been recalled — and told drivers to go to dealers immediately to get the air bags replaced. Toyota is shifting replacement air bags to warm weather areas and disable air bags if new ones aren’t available immediately.
“We are sure you agree that the first priority for both NHTSA and the manufacturers of cars with defective Takata air bags must be to protect the safety of all drivers and their families. We have become increasingly troubled and alarmed by the confusing and conflicting advice being issued by NHTSA, and the glacial pace of the agency's response to this public safety threat,” the letter said.
Automakers need to provide loaners if parts aren’t available, Blumenthal said.
“No one has been more critical of GM” in its handling of the ignition switch recall of 2.6 million vehicles linked to 29 deaths but GM did the right thing by offering loaners, he said, and that should be followed by the industry.
More than 52 million vehicles have been recalled this year — smashing the all-time record of 30.8 million vehicles recalled in 2004 — and numerous bills have been introduced in Congress for sweeping auto safety reforms. But so far Republicans haven’t signed on and Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, chair of the House Energy Commerce, has said he is considering unveiling reforms next year.
“The cascading and accumulating series of safety lapses and recalls are driving more than ever the effort to reform auto safety laws and I am very hopeful that we will see such reform,” Blumenthal said.