The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now demanding a nationwide recall of vehicles equipped with defective Takata-made driver’s-side front air bags, citing new evidence that their safety risk may not be limited solely to the high-humidity regions designated for previous recalls.
When the air bags deploy, the inflator can rupture and send metal fragments flying that can injure vehicle occupants. The problem has been linked to four deaths in the U.S. and one in Malaysia.
Some of the previous U.S. recalls of the air bags have targeted vehicles registered or sold in regions known for high absolute humidity. That’s because air moisture is believed to make the air bag inflator propellant more combustible. But NHTSA’s recent evaluation of an air bag rupture in August in North Carolina largely prompted this week’s new push to expand the recalls. Though the driver suffered injuries when the air bag inflator exploded, the 2007 Ford Mustang had escaped recall because it wasn’t in one of the designated high-humidity areas, NHTSA Deputy Administrator David J. Friedman told the New York Times. The agency compared this particular incident to previous accidents involving exploding Takata driver's-side air bags.
“Based on this new information, unless Takata and the manufacturers quickly agree to this recall, NHTSA will use the full extent of its statutory powers to ensure vehicles that use the same or similar air bag inflator are recalled,” NHTSA said in a released statement.
Previous recalls have involved 10 automakers and approximately 11 million vehicles in the U.S., about 7.8 million of those in the past couple years. Some of the regional recalls have included passenger-side Takata air bags, which use a different design than the driver's-side ones. The expansion of recalls involving driver’s-side frontal air bags would affect millions more vehicles manufactured by Ford, Honda, Chrysler, Mazda and BMW, mostly from model years 2008 or earlier.
NHTSA said it also ordered Takata and all 10 of the automakers that use Takata air bag inflators – BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota – to file a report on any results of tests conducted on the air bag inflators outside of the current regional recall areas.
“The agency is demanding this information to compel Takata and the affected industry to be frank with not only NHTSA, but the American public, as to what testing and additional steps they have done and plan to do to control and mitigate the risk associated with Takata’s defective inflators,” NHTSA said.
Additionally, NHTSA ordered Takata to provide documents and information about the propellant used in the defective inflators.
The Takata air bag recall process will be the subject of a Senate committee hearing on Thursday, Nov. 20.
To view a CBS News report about these new developments in the Takata air bag recalls, click on the image or link above.