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Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata doubled its recall to nearly 34 million cars, making it one of the largest product recalls in U.S. history. The airbags can spew metal fragments when deployed, and have been linked to six deaths and more than 100 injuries. Gwen Ifill leans more Mark Rosekind of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The government announced today that a recall of autos with defective air bags will double in size to nearly 34 million vehicles.
The Department of Transportation has been pushing the air bag's manufacturer, Takata, to declare the bags defective for months and levying daily fines. The air bags can explode when deployed, spewing metal fragments into the chest and body. At least five deaths and more than 100 injuries are linked to the air bags.
Anthony Foxx, the secretary of transportation, spoke of the scope of the recall at a news conference.
ANTHONY FOXX, Secretary of Transportation: This recall involves 11 auto manufacturers, many different parts suppliers, not just Takata, and roughly double the number of vehicles built in the United States every year. It's fair to say this is probably the most complex consumer safety recall in U.S. history.
For more on what the massive recall might mean for Takata, for automakers and for car owners, I'm joined by Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Thank you, and thank you for joining us.
So, in the end, after all these months of back and forth, what did Takata finally concede?
MARK ROSEKIND, Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Up until this point, basically, they were denying there was a defect at all.
So, what really is the huge step forward for safety today is them acknowledging there is a defect in their inflator, and that's for both driver as well as passenger-side air bags.
When you say defect, do we know what that means, what the cause is?
So, that's a critical part, because what's been going on is basically a search for that root cause.
And while we have some hints, we don't really know what that is. That was part of the problem. How long do you wait? So, we may not have the root cause, but right now we have to worry about defective air bags in cars. We need to get a solution, even if we don't fully understand the root cause at this point.
So, is it fair to say that Takata's resistance up until this point was about not being able to prove that they had done anything wrong?
Well, I think that's part of what we're hearing, is, like, let's determine what the root cause is.
I have just come from the NTSB as a board member. I can tell you it takes a long time to figure these things out. In this case, we don't have that time.
If you don't know the cause, the problem that created this, then how do you know that any solution you put in place, any replacements that people apply for to get, how do you know they're safe?
Well, two parts.
One is, we have hints, so we know there are some issues about chemistry and moisture and some things like that.
Tell me what you mean by that.
Yes. Some of the testing that's been done has been found in — what everyone is hearing high-humidity areas, so moisture can get into some of their air bags, changes its chemistry, so it burns faster and hotter than it should.
And so when it inflates, it basically explodes. It goes hotter than it should. And that's how you get things with higher pressure basically breaking out and shredding the metal.
So, to remind people, when this first came to light, there was widespread defense or a discussion that this was only applicable in high-humidity areas, in the American South, for instance, in Florida. Is that no longer the case?
So, that's exactly what the issue is, right, which is everybody identifies it somewhere, and you think you have a sense of what the root cause is, can we actually define it, constrain it to a particular area?
So, the problem is, we had two cases that didn't occur in high-humidity areas. And so that kind of throws that out. That's been part of the problem, multiple versions of the air bag in multiple makes and models of cars. So that confuses what we're going after.
So, in the end, you have to basically bet on the idea that it might happen again and that's worth taking them all out?
And so to — how you originally asked that question, part of what's happened today is not just identifying the defect, but them signing an agreement with us that we will now be participating and directing and provide oversight to determining that the remedy works.
In the past, the federal government, when it has intervened in these cases, has intervened with car companies. We have heard of multiple recalls for multiple reasons, whether it was air bags or ignition safety switches. It always involved the companies themselves.
This time, you're going directly or your agreement is directly with the supplier. That's different.
Yes. And that's part of what the problem was earlier, is, because Takata was denying that there was anything going on, it was the 10 auto manufacturers who were using their inflators who stepped up to call for the — basically to recall these vehicles.
So it's very different now to have the supplier step up. And, in fact, that triggers — their identifying a defect now triggers these manufacturers, 11 of them now, to then have to come forward and identify defects in all the makes and models where they have used the Takata inflator.
Does this make Takata or the companies liable to consumer complaint lawsuits?
So, that's outside our venue. As far as what we're going to focus on, we're going to stay focused on the safety part of this.
But there is no question that coming and making an official declaration there is a defect changes the landscape broadly.
OK. I'm driving one of these cars. What do I do now?
This is one most important things we can do. There is a vehicle identification number on your car. You can look it up, safercar.gov. It's a Web site that NHTSA runs.
And you can look it up and see whether or not you have any recalls on your vehicle. If you see that there is an air bag problem, you need to call your dealer and get it fixed as soon as you can.
Safercar.gov. I recall there were some problems with safercar.gov before. You sent consumers there and they went to the wrong Web site. They couldn't get the answers to their questions. Has that been fixed?
Yes, for a long time.
And it is a challenge because, even now, as we get this information, we have to rely on the auto manufacturers to send us all the information there. And, as you started with this, as we're talking about going from 17 million to at least probably 34 million vehicles, so we're talking about a huge load, and we're preparing the system to handle that.
Let's assume for a moment that everyone goes through the Web site and they put in for their replacement air bags, and then they get to their dealer and they say, well, they're backordered. We don't have them in stock. What to do then?
So, this is exactly why we have a major concern. This is — we're calling this the largest, most complex. It's not the numbers. That's the large part.
The complex piece is making the supplies available as quickly as we can. So that's why, in this agreement, NHTSA will have a central role in prioritizing, organizing and phasing in to make sure the most high risk get them as soon as possible.
For you, the individual driver, keep driving. Keep calling your dealer, so as soon as they have that replacement, you get it in your car.
How do you measure who is at most risk?
Again, the little bit of root cause work that's been done, we know age is a problem. We know geography, we know environment and we know driver vs. passenger.
So there are some things we know where the highest risk would be. Just want to make sure those people get it first.
Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, thank you.
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