Late in 2008, Honda recalled 4,200 vehicles it believed might be equipped with faulty air bags. The air bags had the potential to explode and send metal shrapnel flying into the vehicle. The recall came four years after the first reported incident of an exploding air bag leading to injury. The defective air bags, manufactured by Takata, are now responsible for 14 million recalled vehicles. The recalls cover 11 different auto manufacturers and numerous vehicle types. As with the GM ignition switch recall, people are asking why the defect has been allowed to endanger so many people over such a long period of time.
The first time the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took up the issue of the defective air bags was 2009. The NHTSA closed that investigation before it had even received full documentation from Takata. Honda dutifully fired a standard form each time a ruptured air bag was identified as the cause of an injury. Still, 10 years later, new recalls are being announced and more people are being hurt by shrapnel hurled at them by defective air bags.
Auto makers stand to lose a great deal by announcing a recall. The expense of repairing the affected vehicles is just one component of that loss. Recalls harm brand reputation and affect sales of new, unaffected vehicles. Auto makers have every incentive to delay or avoid recalls. A weak or ineffective regulatory body allows the makers of defective cars and car parts to do everything asked of them while still endangering the public. In some ways, it is worse than no enforcement at all.
It should not take a decade for consumers to become aware of a serious danger posed by the products they buy. Auto companies must be held accountable for the safety of their products. It is not clear that the NHTSA is equipped to handle this duty as it is currently constructed.
Source: New York Times, “Air Bag Flaw, Long Known to Honda and Takata, Led to Recalls” by Hiroko Tabuchi, 11 September 2014