Explosive Takata Air Bags Connected with Sixth Fatality

Nov 20, 2014 04:16 PM EST | Jordan Ecarma

Takata's problematic air bags have been related to a sixth fatality, two lawmakers said at a U.S. Senate hearing today.

Testifying to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, a Takata executive said the company has acknowledged three deaths so far and is investigating two more, Bloomberg News reported.

A woman said to media prior to the hearing that her sister died in an accident in Arizona after a crash in a Subaru Impreza manufactured with Takata air bags, according to Bloomberg News. The incident in 2003 would bring the number of U.S. traffic fatalities involving the air bags to five; the death of a woman in Malaysia has also been connected with the faulty part. 

"We are deeply sorry and anguished about each of the reported instances in which a Takata air bag has not performed as designed and a driver or passenger has suffered personal injuries or death," Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice president in charge of global quality assurance, said in the prepared testimony.

Shimizu, who did not address the sixth death report, said that Takata failed to inform the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after accidents that resulted in exploding air bags.

The U.S. agency said this week that regional recalls for vehicles equipped with the faulty air bag inflators were not enough to fix the problem. It is now urging automakers to launch nationwide campaigns for air bags on the driver's side.

"This could be a problem of gargantuan proportions that is going to need the aggressiveness of the federal regulator to try to protect the public," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., as quoted by Automotive News.

At least 10 carmakers have issued recalls due to the faulty air bags. Honda in particular has been under pressure from the NHTSA since the five deaths earlier reported have been connected with Honda vehicles.

Earlier this month, the automaker received a special order from federal regulators that includes producing all internal communications about the seven recall campaigns connected with Takata air bags.

Around 6 percent of vehicles recalled for faulty air bags have been repaired so far, Bloomberg News estimated using data provided to the NHTSA.

Shimizu said that the company is producing upwards of 300,000 replacement kits each month and should ramp that figure up to around 450,000 new components per month by January. 

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