The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) continues to probe a potentially deadly situation involving Takata supplemental inflatable airbags. So far, four deaths have been attributed to defective components found in these airbags which were used extensively in production vehicles from virtually every major automaker from 2000 through 2007. More than 16-million vehicles (equipped with the potentially faulty airbags) have been recalled since 2008. Takata is cooperating with the NHTSA in recall efforts and the ongoing investigation, as are nine major automakers.
Two of the four deaths linked to the faulty airbags occurred in 2009 and a third took place last year, near Los Angeles, California. A fourth death, which occurred on October 2, 2014, has also been linked to the defective airbags. Four days earlier, Hien Tran, a 51-year-old woman, was driving her 2001 Honda Accord sedan in Orlando when her car struck another vehicle and the Takata airbag deployed. Emergency medical workers and firefighters at the accident scene said Tran “had 2 or 3 deep cuts on her right side of her neck that were not consistent with crash injuries,” according to the crash report. The report notes Tran was wearing her safety belt and there were no broken windows. According to Orange-Osceola County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia and the Florida Highway Patrol crash investigation team, Tran was struck in the throat with shrapnel from the airbag. Garavaglia said in an interview that shrapnel came “tearing through” the airbag and hit Tran, causing “stab-type wounds” and cutting her trachea. She had also suffered traumatic head and torso injuries as a result of the crash. Garavaglia said the “devastating” neck injury suffered by Tran was not typical for what is seen when an airbag deploys in an accident, but added Tran may have survived if that had been the only injury suffered. “We connected the air bag to the lacerations of the neck,” Garavaglia told Reuters. Garavaglia’s office has not yet released the final autopsy report.
The problem begins with faulty pressure regulators in certain airbags manufactured by Takata. It seems that vehicles driven primarily in hot and humid climates and equipped with these faulty pressure regulators allow the airbags to overinflate or to inflate too rapidly when activated during a motor vehicle crash. This can result in excessive force being applied to the metal airbag inflator, causing it to rupture and disperse shrapnel throughout the passenger compartment possibly striking and injuring occupants.
Having only heard of the tragedy on Thursday and without sufficient opportunity to have the vehicle expertly inspected, Honda spokesman Chris Martin said, “We have not been formally notified, and have not had an opportunity to perform an inspection of the vehicle,” he said. “Thus, it is too early to draw any conclusions. We are now looking into this crash.” In 2008, Honda recalled a small number of 2001 Honda Accord and Civic cars because the driver’s air bag inflator could produce excessive internal pressure, possibly causing the part to rupture and spray metal fragments. It widely expanded the recall several times in subsequent years.
Takata’s U.S. spokesman, Alby Berman, said the company was not aware of the accident and would support Honda’s investigation. Officials with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they are in contact with local authorities and Honda about the accident and “will take appropriate action to protect consumers.”