The Office of Inspector General (OIG) audited the management of the Takata airbag recalls by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and concluded that automakers are not being penalized harshly enough for failing to abide by recall requirements. Further, for years their poor record keeping may have been putting Americans in danger before it was known that the Takata airbags were defective.
The situation is serious and one that can’t be regarded lightly – Takata airbag deaths and injuries are not scarce. There have been 24 deaths and 240 injuries worldwide and has become the biggest safety recall. The inflators within the defective Takata airbags have been found to be deadly, and have been found to be able to shoot shrapnel pieces directly at passengers.
Internal problems creating safety issues
The report by the federal government offers details about how the NHTSA doesn’t always document things, isn’t always able to explain important decisions, and has a chaotic data-gathering system. After looking at 94 random recalls (from 1384 in total) issued by the NHTSA from 2012 to 2016, the OIG found enough evidence to say the inadequacies in the NHTSA’s accountability and dangerous mistakes keep it from being able to properly fulfill its own safety mission.
Lack of a thorough investigation process
The NHTSA was first given the information that Takata built 100 million inflators that had the defective propellant in November of 2009. They did not believe that the propellant was the problem at the time or that the issue was going to affect tens of millions of vehicles from numerous manufacturers. They did, however, know that the inflators were exploding in thousands of 2008 Hondas. An NHTSA investigation was opened, but it was closed in only six months due to guarantee by Takata that the issue was taken care of.
Years later, a complaint was received by the agency from a driver who had to get 100 stitches and was blinded from an exploded Takata airbag. The investigation was not reopened by the NHTSA because the vehicle was not the same type as the one in the original investigation.
Slow resolution of recalls
The Takata recalls between 2008 and 2015 were resolved much slower than they’re being handled now, and the report states that this could be attributed to the NHTSA’s insignificant action to try and expedite completion rates for the dangerous recall. Additionally, all recalls were checked in the report and it found that 43% of recall notices that were sent to vehicle owners were missing necessary information. The NHTSA did not attempt to revise the notices or supply the information separately.
The NHTSA does not have any way of confirming listed recall repair percentages that are listed on their website, but fortunately, they are still mandating that every manufacturer achieve a 100% repair or replacement rate. Ford is one manufacturer that is taking this seriously and is offering $1000 for each recalled Ranger.