NHTSA to brief Congress on air bags
Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will brief congressional aides next week on the recall of 7.8 million air bags by 10 automakers that have been linked to at least four reported deaths.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee said Friday that NHTSA would brief committee staff on the recalls of Takata Corp. air bags over the last 18 months that prompted urgent warnings from the auto safety agency to consumers. The air bags can malfunction and the propellant can cause shrapnel to hit vehicle occupants.
"First and foremost, we need to ensure that regulators and automakers are doing everything they can to address this hazard and protect drivers. We want to fully understand what steps have already been taken and what the next steps are in this process. Drivers are being told they need to fix their cars immediately, yet they are directed to a website that isn’t working properly and are being told by dealers that they don’t have working parts. Drivers are rightly confused and panicked. We can’t afford to make mistakes with public safety on the line. Air bags are supposed to save lives, not endanger them,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
NHTSA initially said the air bag warning only applied to 4.7 million vehicles then issued a new statement on Tuesday removing some erroneously included models and adding others for a total of 6.1 million vehicles. Just after midnight Wednesday, NHTSA revised its statement again to 7.8 million vehicles. That comes as NHTSA’s website has experienced serious malfunctions for most of this week; the agency added a new link for individual automaker websites to help drivers learn if there air bags are covered.
NHTSA has said the greatest concern is in high humidity states. Toyota Motor Corp. issued an urgent warning in a new recall of 247,000 vehicles this week — including 28,000 that hadn’t previously been called back — and said it would take the unusual step of deactivating the passenger air bag if replacement parts weren’t available. Other automakers haven’t begun fixing vehicles or face a significant backlog in getting enough parts. Not all believe it is a safety issue and some have classified the call backs as service campaigns, rather than formal recalls.
Most of the vehicles covered are from Honda, which has called back 5.1 million of the vehicles. It has included some warm weather states in its regional recalls that other automakers haven’t. All four deaths linked to the problem have occurred in Honda vehicles since 2009 — and some have taken place in states not part of the high humidity call backs. Worldwide, more than 16 million vehicles have been recalled for defective Takata air bags since 2009.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, and Ed Markey, D-Mass., asked why the recall is being limited along “senseless geographic boundaries.” Safety advocates say if it were expanded to the entire country it could cover another 20 to 30 million vehicles. But NHTSA said it doesn’t have evidence that the issue is a problem beyond high humidity areas and warned an expansion could divert parts from the most critical areas. NHTSA says it has been in talks with Takata to boost production of replacement parts.