Deaths From Exploding Airbags and Shrapnel Force 2.7 Million More Car Recalls
Last week, Toyota and Ford announced the recall of 2.7 million vehicles due to exploding airbags in the ongoing Takata airbag disaster.
At least 23 people have been killed as a result of exploding front passenger Takata airbags leading to a massive recall that has affected almost every automaker. Last week Toyota announced an additional 1.7 million cars for recall, which followed just days after Ford announced an additional 953,000 vehicles for recall. Some estimates say the recall affects as many as 350 million cars worldwide.
In each horrific accident, the faulty airbag component exploded without warning, sending flying shrapnel throughout the vehicle. In addition to the needless deaths, at least 240 people have suffered injuries such as puncture wounds, lacerations and skull fractures.
Florida Senator Bill Nelson is leading the charge to hold Takata airbags accountable as Florida has been identified as the locale with the most injuries and deaths from the faulty airbags. The state has linked 83 injuries and three deaths to the airbags so far.
Unstable Ammonium Nitrate
At fault in the airbags is the use of ammonium nitrate which creates an explosion reaction designed to inflate the airbags. Over time though, and especially in hot climates like Florida, the integrity of the airbag system can become compromised creating an explosion with too much force that blows apart a metal canister containing the chemical and sends shrapnel into the passenger.
As reported by the Associated Press, the airbags did just as feared when one woman in Florida in January of 2018 died from shrapnel-caused injuries.
Nichol Barker of Holiday, Florida, was a 34-year-old woman who was traveling with her 5-year-old daughter, 10-year-old son and mother when a 19-year-old man in a 1999 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am made an illegal left turn in front of her. Barker’s 2002 Honda Accord struck the Tran’s Am’s passenger’s side, causing the faulty airbag to rupture, firing hot shrapnel into Barker’s skull.
Barker received 3-inch and 6-inch wounds to her head, as well as a fractured skull and bleeding and bruising on her brain. Although she was flown by helicopter to a hospital, Barker was pronounced dead only 40 minutes after the accident. Barker’s daughter was unharmed, and the others suffered minor injuries.
Sgt. Chester T. Everett, the lead investigator on the scene, as well as Dr. Christopher Wilson, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, both concluded that Barker would have survived the crash if not for the faulty airbag.
It is believed that Barker is the 21st person to die as a result of the Takata airbags, but the total number of injuries and deaths is considered unknown. In June of 2018, Honda reported the 2004 death of a Malaysian driver was due to the faulty airbags.
How Big is The Recall?
Senator Nelson told product safety attorney Rich Newsome in a 2016 interview, that it’s estimated the recall affects 250 million cars worldwide and possibly even more. At 70 million recalls, the Takata recall was already the largest recall in automotive history and now is approaching epic proportions.
What’s even more alarming, a Newsome explains, is that the Takata airbags are being replaced again with an ammonium nitrate-based repellant. Takata claims the difference now is that the new propellant contains a drying agent. However, in 2017 millions of the newer ammonium-nitrate propellants with drying agents were found to be defective and added to the recall. Takata claims the problem is again fixed because the company switched to a different drying agent.
According to Newsome, Takata is the only airbag manufacturer that uses ammonium-nitrate as a propellant. Other airbag manufacturers use guanidine nitrate and tetrazole which are considered safer. Takata switched to ammonium-nitrate when in the 1990s consumers became concerned about toxic fumes stemming from traditional airbag propellants. So Takata switched to a tetrazole-based propellant, but then switched again to ammonium nitrate because it was a tenth of the price.
Did Takata Know?
Takata’s own engineers testified against the company saying they warned the company about the potentially life-threatening dangers of using ammonium-nitrate.
“I literally said if we go forward with this, someone will be killed,” Lillie said to Reuters. “I couldn’t in good faith pump this stuff out believing that it was unsafe to put in front of a passenger in a car.”
Lillie and another engineer even claimed that Takata destroyed and ignored its own 2004 data that showed tests on 50 airbags which revealed defects. Takata ultimately pleaded guilty to a 2017 federal charge of wire fraud to settle a US Department of Justice investigation. The settlement was for $1 billion and bankrupted the company, which was then bought out by auto components maker Key Safety Systems.
Is Your Car Recalled?
A list of the recalled vehicles can be found on USA TODAY’s website or on Newsome’s website. Toyota owners can also see if their car has been recalled by entering their VIN or license plate number on Toyota’s website.
Beginning in late January, Toyota vehicle owners affected by the recall will receive mailed notifications, according to Toyota.
Bill Nelson’s term as Senator ended January 3, 2019; by the time this article was written, he was former Senator. Who will spearhead this effort now?