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Are airbags in automobiles a safety risk?

The crisis related to rupturing airbags continues for Japanese supplier Takata as U.S. regulators reportedly intend to recall at least another 35 million air-bag inflators. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had previously deemed the airbags a safety risk after they were linked to numerous deaths and injuries. While the details of the next round of recalls are still in the works, some observers believe tens of millions of vehicles will be affected, and the projected number of faulty air-bag inflators being recalled could grow. Thus far, regulators in the U.S. have already recalled about 24 million vehicles involving more than 28 million inflators.

Why are Takata’s airbags exploding?

After an exhaustive investigation, it has been learned that the faulty airbags utilized ammonium nitrate as a propellant which lacked a drying agent that would have prevented moisture from building. As the airbags aged, and were exposed to heat and moisture, they became prone to rupturing due to the excessive force of the propellant, spraying shrapnel into the vehicle compartment. The defects have een linked to 11 deaths and dozens of injuries, and Takata has been ordered to stop using ammonium nitrate as a propellant.

Federal Probes

The first round of recalls stemmed from initial claims of injuries and deaths caused by the defective air-bags. This resulted in the company signing a Consent Order in November 2015 with federal regulators. That order, in turn, gave the government far reaching authority to order further recalls. After additional mandated evaluations were conducted by Takata, Honda Motor Co., and a number of other automakers, regulators determined additional recalls were needed. In addition to the recall, Takata was fined $70 million for failing to warn the regulators about the faulty air-bags. The NHTSA’s probe is ongoing, and if other infractions are revealed, Takata may face additional fines. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is conducting a criminal investigation that could result in another financial penalty. While Takata has said it is cooperating with federal authorities the recalls and penalties have had a adverse impact on the company’s financial picture. The company has reported losses because of recall costs and legal settlements with victims who were injured by ruptured air-bags. Given the latest round of recalls, more lawsuits may be one the way; and anyone who has been injured by a ruptured air-bag or any other vehicle defect should engage the services of an experienced personal injury attorney.