Japanese supplier Takata's faulty air bags connected with recalls of more than 14 million vehicles stem from problems both within the company and throughout the auto industry, according to a New York Times report.
Two deaths and more than 30 injuries have occurred in Honda vehicles with exploding air bags, while regulators report that the problematic parts have been related to at least 139 injuries in vehicles from various carmakers.
The air bags can erupt following an accident to spew shrapnel and chemicals at the vehicle's occupants. In December 2009, Gurjit Rathore was driving a Honda Accord when she crashed into a mail truck in Virginia, causing her air bag to explode. The lawsuit filed by her family says the 33-year-old woman bled to death in front of her three kids, the Times reported.
A Honda Accord with a faulty air bag that erupted metal fragments was first brought to the automaker's attention back in 2004, but both Honda and Takata wrote off the incident as "an anomaly."
Even though the first problematic air bag was reported a decade ago, a flawed reporting system throughout the auto industry concealed the seriousness of the issue.
"Honda was aware of the problem," said Jennifer Griffin, whose Honda Civic's air bag exploded following a minor accident six months after Honda had recalled other vehicles for faulty air bags. "This should never have happened at all."
According to the Times report, automakers are allowed to use a minimalist approach when it comes to reporting defects, something that kept the air bags from raising a red flag. Honda also failed to investigate the matter and put off recalling vehicles equipped with Takata air bags until 2008.
That first erupting air bag should have been an immediate sign to Honda, Allan J. Kam, a former senior enforcement official for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the Times.
"This isn't a defect where you can expect a number of events to happen before you take notice," said Kam, who now works as director of Highway Traffic Safety Associates, a Maryland-based consultant firm. "When you have something like that, you put all your resources into conducting a thorough investigation. You don't just delegate out the responsibility to your supplier."
Last month, Honda issued its ninth recall connected with the problematic air bags; the Honda and Acura vehicles recalled for this issue total six million.