WASHINGTON (May 9, 2016) — The 35 million-plus Takata Corp. airbag inflators added last week to the vehicle recall rolls haven't been linked to any injuries or deaths.
They haven't ruptured in the field or failed in lab tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said they do not present an “unreasonable risk to safety.”
But eventually, according to NHTSA, they will.
And that's why the agency took the unusual, if not unprecedented, step of ordering a phased recall that stretches over the next three and a half years. Under this approach, manufacturers of the covered vehicles will issue recall notices in five waves, with each wave hitting just before the inflators become prone to developing the same dangerous defect that has been linked to 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the U.S.
Consider it a just-in-time recall.
The approach is made possible by NHTSA's unique application of its legal powers to wrestle the industry's most pervasive and challenging recall into submission. It takes into account the results of several investigations into the causes of the rupture as well as the need to closely manage the supply of replacement inflators.
It also reflects NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind's determination to enforce what he calls a “proactive safety culture” — not only at manufacturers and suppliers but within the agency itself.
A NHTSA review of three independent investigations into the root cause of the Takata inflator ruptures confirmed that the ammonium nitrate propellant, when used without a chemical additive to prevent moisture absorption, degrades after several years of exposure to humid air and temperature fluctuations. When degraded, the propellant can explode with too much force when the airbag deploys, rupturing its container and spraying vehicle occupants with metal shards.