The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun fining Takata Corp. $14,000 per day for failing to fully cooperate with the agency’s probe into the manufacturer’s defective air bags, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Feb. 20.
The air bag inflators are at risk for exploding upon deployment. Metal fragments from the destroyed housings can disperse like shrapnel and injure vehicle occupants. Such explosions, linked to five deaths worldwide, have led to recall plans for more than 7 million vehicles in the U.S.
In November 2014, NHTSA ordered Takata to provide documents and other materials pertinent to the agency’s investigation. In response, Takata produced a mountain of documents – more than 2.4 million pages – but has repeatedly ignored NHTSA’s many requests for a “walk-through” or explanation of all the paperwork, the agency said.
“At this point, Takata has still not taken any steps to provide the agency with an explanation of the documents it has produced,” stated NHTSA Chief Counsel O. Kevin Vincent in a Feb. 20 letter to Takata attorney Steven Bradbury.
After informing Takata’s attorney of the daily penalties, Vincent also stated in the letter that NHTSA will begin serving depositions to Takata employees in the U.S. and Japan if the company fails to resolve the issue soon. What’s more, further noncompliance may prompt NHTSA to refer the matter to the Department of Justice.
“We are surprised and disappointed by the DOT/NHTSA letter and press release today, and we strongly disagree with their characterization that we have not been fully cooperating with them,” Takata said in a statement also released Feb. 20. “In response to NHTSA’s Special Orders, we have provided the agency with almost 2.5 million pages of documents to date. Since the Special Orders were issued, we have been in regular communication with NHTSA staff regarding our ongoing production of documents in response to the Special Orders.”
The statement from Takata also asserts that the company has kept NHTSA informed about ongoing testing aimed at identifying the root cause of the “inflator issue.” Thus far, Takata said, test results have “supported our initial view that age and sustained exposure to heat and humidity is a common factor in the small number of inflators that have malfunctioned.”
Additionally, Takata said it has ramped up production of replacement parts and is working with other air bag inflator suppliers to accommodate safety recalls “in those geographic areas identified as being most at risk.”
For additional background on the air bag inflator defect, click here to watch a PBS news report from last October.