An in-depth New York Times investigation published last week has revealed that despite on-and-off recalls issued by Honda regarding Takata airbags, the company only reported a deadly flaw years after it first learned of it.
The first incident relevant to the recalls happened in 2004, when an Alabama driver in a 2004 Accord was injured by an exploding airbag that shot out metal fragments. Honda and the air bag’s manufacturer, Takata, simply labeled the accident as an “anomaly.”
The company neither issued a recall nor notified federal safety regulators.
But in the past decade, 11 car companies supplied by Takata have recalled more than 14 million cars over the risk of ruptured air bags. (For scale, that’s approximately five times as many cars as General Motors has recalled due to its highly publicized ignition switch flaw.)
How Long Was the Problem Kept Quiet?
Despite additional reports of ruptures, including three in 2007, Honda made no public announcement about the problem until late in 2008. At that time, the safety recall issued covered only 4,200 cars, a fraction of the vehicles equipped with that same airbag model.
Instead, the automaker settled confidentially, agreeing to financial compensation for the injured persons.
The most recent recalls issued by Honda last month bring the total of recalled Honda and Acura vehicles to six million.
And because other manufacturers also use air bags supplied by Takata—including BMW, Toyota and Nissan—Honda’s delay meant that other automakers were not made aware of the potential for danger in their own vehicles, delaying recalls for their models as well.
Stan Creech, President of Creech Import Repair says, “SRS “supplemental restraint systems” are designed to supplement seat belts to increase occupants safety in a collision. Any defects or potential problems that are safety or emissions related require vehicle MFG to issue a recall to correct the problem. If an SRS warning light is illuminating the the Control Module has detected some issue that requires repairs. It doesn’t necessarily mean the airbag won’t deploy, that depends on the nature of the problem. The chances of airbag deployment in a “non impact” scenario is extremely slim. But if it were to happen the chances are very high that an accident would occur. Air bag systems are very sophisticated and reliable in today’s vehicles.”
Who Is to Blame?
The fault, the New York Times concluded, falls not only on Honda. The industry as a whole lacks adequate safety reporting systems, and the regulatory agencies who are tasked with ensuring companies comply with safety laws and disclosure requirements are weak and hesitant to use their full legal force.
As it stands, at least two deaths and more than 30 injuries have been linked to exploding airbags in Honda cars.
The recent investigation is the first sustained reporting on the various incidents and recalls.