'Ticking time bomb': Automakers leaving too many lethal Takata air bags on the road?

The independent monitor for the massive Takata air bag recall wants automakers to do more to reach out to affected vehicle owners in order to get the vehicles repaired, saying "the words 'grenade' and 'ticking time bomb' accurately convey the lethal potential" of the defective parts.

There are currently about 46 million unrepaired defective air bag inflators in 34 million vehicles. With a planned expansion of the recall, the total number of affected air bags will increase to about 70 million by the end of 2019, according to a report issued this week by the monitor, John Buretta, an attorney who was appointed to the position in 2015.

The scope of the recall is unprecedented in U.S. history, involving more than "200 different vehicle models, including economy light vehicles, luxury sports cars and heavy duty trucks manufactured by 19 different vehicle manufacturers."

The report says progress is being made, but more can be done by automakers, including working more closely with dealers. Takata's defective air bag inflators are blamed in the deaths of 13 people in the United States, from a 13-year-old child in Pennsylvania to an 81-year-old man in Florida.

"Some affected vehicle manufacturers do not actively provide their dealers with the training or materials needed to conduct recall outreach, motivate their dealers to notify vehicle owners of open Takata recalls or incentivize their dealers to dedicate time or resources to Takata recalls," according to the report.

The report encourages affected automakers to use non-traditional means of outreach, in addition to notification letters, to connect with owners, such as postcards, e-mails, phone calls, text messages and social media.

"Affected vehicle manufacturers should pursue multi-touch communication strategies to ensure that impacted vehicle owners receive at least one form of outreach per month until the affected vehicle is repaired," the report said, noting, however, that automakers are more readily exploring the use of independent repair facilities and door-to-door canvassing.

The report did offer some praise, noting that several automakers are more quickly "meeting or even exceeding completion milestones."

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., issued a statement praising the report, but effectively criticizing the Trump Administration for failing to appoint an administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency that oversees vehicle recalls.

“The independent monitor has made a number of good recommendations for improving the Takata airbag recall,” Nelson said. "But, the fact remains that we still don’t have any leadership at NHTSA to ensure this stuff actually gets done by the automakers. Until the agency gets a permanent administrator this recall is going to continue to drag on while the injury and death toll mounts.” 

The Free Press reported earlier this week that 30% of all recalled vehicles remain unrepaired on U.S. roads, but that there are new efforts by automakers such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and by the State of Maryland to increase awareness. 

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© 2017, Detroit Free Press


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