US Vehicle Regulator in Firing Line

US Vehicle Regulator in Firing Line

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been criticized by politicians and safety advocates this week for its handling of critical safety defects with the air bags on millions of vehicles.  It is reported that:

The faulty air bags can explode with too much force and spray shrapnel at occupants, a problem that has been linked to four deaths and numerous injuries.

On Monday 20 October 2014, the agency issued recalls for 4.8 million vehicles with defective air bags initiators made by Japanese supplier Takata, who, since June have been investigating the effect of humidity on their product.  By the end of the week this recall was expanded to 7.8 million vehicles made by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. However, there have been a long history of regional and nation recalls for similar problems.

The longevity of this saga begs questions on the effectiveness of NHTSA, the sharing of safety data between manufacturers, their safety management systems and the culture of both industry and regulator. A dedicated vehicle recall site maintained by the NHTSA,, has not been functioning at times during the week because of overwhelming demand.  However, those drivers who did get to access the site would have been confused.  After one announcement, the NHSTA webpage was accompanied by an incomplete list of vehicles but they mistakenly included 14 models equipped with other airbags.

This year in the US, more than 50 million vehicles, one fifth of all vehicles on US roads, have been recalled for a variety of problems. Aerossurance has previously reported on safety lessons from the high profile recalls due to ignition switch failures on GM vehicles. The US House Energy and Commerce Committee will be looking further into the air bag initiators and the role of the NHSTA, an agency that has been without a head since January, in the coming week.

UPDATE 19 November 2014: It is reported a former NTSB Board member, Mark Rosekind, is to be nominated to head the agency.

UPDATE 21 February 2015:  NHTSA fines Takata for not cooperating in probe of exploding air bags

UPDATE 9 April 2015: US Safety Agency May Reopen Jeep Fire Investigation

UPDATE 9 April 2015: NHTSA chief plans auto CEO summit  At that 28 April 2015 event Rosekind also will unveil a two-year strategy with short-, medium- and long-term goals to improve the safety agency’s performance.

UPDATE 10 April 2015: NHTSA plans summit to promote culture of auto safety

UPDATE 21 October 2015: NHTSA is to hold a public meeting 22 October 2015 to help decide whether to take control of the record-setting recall covering 23.4 million Takata air bags in nearly 20 million vehicles built by 11 major automakers.

UPDATE 29 August 2016: The New York Times discuss A Cheaper Airbag, and Takata’s Road to a Deadly Crisis, suggesting that Takata won business in the 1990s by under cutting the the competition with an allegedly inferior propellant.  In an unrelated development, a Takata delivery vehicle suffered a fatal explosion in Texas.

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