Airbags are generally thought to protect drivers and passengers. However, when an airbag or car manufacturer defectively designs, manufacturers, or installs the life saving component, what is intended to prevent injury can become the real killer.
Take the example of Guddi Rathore. Guddi Rathore was killed when a defective airbag in her 2001 Honda Accord exploded after a minor fender bender. Upon defective deployment, the airbag violently deployed and projected debris and metal particles lacerating her neck and arteries. Another incident occurred only this month in Orlando, Florida. Like Rathore, Hien Tran was killed when defective airbag deployment also sent shrapnel into her neck. Tran bled to death.
While many people are familiar with the large car manufacturers, the cause of defective car components can sometimes be traced to an auto parts supplier. In the case of both Rathore and Tran, both were driving Honda vehicles with airbags provided by Takata Corporation, a Japanese based company. An investigation found the propellant intended to inflate the air bag is too powerful and forces the airbag to explode. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicles in regions with high humidity levels are more susceptible to malfunction. The suspicion is the high levels of humidity are destabilizing the propellant causing a more intense explosion.
The impact of Takata’s defective airbag on the auto industry has been staggering. Honda alone has recalled over 7.7 million vehicles, with companies like Nissan, Mazda, and Toyota following suit. Worldwide recall estimates is over 12 million with Toyota intensifying it efforts to reach more customers.
Victims and their families have been successful in some cases to receive compensation. For instance, the Rathore family successfully reached a $3 million settlement with Honda, who was subsequently paid by Takata. Another example is Ms. Kristy Williams of Georgia who successfully settled the case with Honda and Takata within nine months of the accident for an undisclosed amount.
The risk is so serious federal regulators are warning vehicle owners to “act immediately.” When a defective airbag is deployed shrapnel like pieces are projected into the face, neck, and chest of those inside the vehicle. To get an idea of the gravity of risk and harm consider standing in a room with a grenade detonating nearby. Deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said, “We want to make sure that everyone out there – and we’ve got millions of vehicles involved – is getting engaged and is getting their vehicles fixed to protect themselves and their families.”
But even within the government disagreement has arisen. The recalls have been called on a regional basis with a focus on high absolute humidity areas like South Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. U.S. lawmakers questioned the approach noting cars in low humidity zones can travel to high humid zone and become subject to the high risk of defective air bag deployment.
With such a pervasive problem exposing thousands to high degree of injury and death, safety must be the absolute priority. Vehicle owners are urged to check https://vinrcl.safecar.gove/vin/ to confirm whether their car has been recalled, and take appropriate action to remedy potentially defective airbags.