Exploding Airbags: Takata Fined Up To $200 Million By Safety Regulators NHTSA

Japanese supplier of airbags Takata is facing fines of up to $200 million for safety breaches, reports WSJ. The fines come after a long-running investigation into Takata’s conduct after lapses in safety led to eight deaths and more than 100 injuries around the world.

A manufacturing defect in some Takata airbag inflaters caused them to explode, spraying shrapnel in vehicle cabins. Approximately 23.4 million Takata airbag inflators have been recalled in the U.S.

Takata was cited for misconduct relating to the company’s interaction with regulators and the failure to alert regulators in a timely manner of the defect in airbag inflaters.

Federal regulators National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Takata reached a settlement that includes a number of penalties and sanctions. Takata will be handed $70 million in fines and an additional $130 million penalty if it violates the terms settlement or federal law. The fine is the largest ever issued by the NHTSA.

Takata will also have to allow an independent monitor to audit the company’s safety practices for several years.

Takata airbags

Takata also faces widespread lawsuits over its faulty air bags and could be hit with another hefty financial penalty depending on the outcome of a U.S. Justice Department investigation.

Takata has traced the fault to use of ammonium nitrate as a propellant in the airbags, which can react to humid climates and cause the airbag to rupture, reports the BBC. In particular, vehicles that have spent significant continuous time periods in areas of high absolute humidity, such as the Gulf Coast region and Puerto Rico, were at higher risk of rupture.

The highest-risk vehicles are those from model years 2008 or older that have spent time in high humidity regions and that have either a recalled driver-side inflator or both driver and passenger-side inflators.

Honda Motor Co., BMW AG, Fiat Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., and Mazda Motor Corp account for 14 million of the affected vehicles and 18 million of the Takata inflaters.

Takata airbags

“For years, Takata has built and sold defective products, refused to acknowledge the defect, and failed to provide full information to NHTSA, its customers, or the public. The result of that delay and denial has harmed scores of consumers and caused the largest, most complex safety recall in history,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

Shigehisa Takada, chairman and CEO of Takata, said that “we deeply regret the circumstances that led to this Consent Order” and described the settlement as a “pivot point” for Takata.

Takata recalls could potentially grow after automakers including Volkswagen AG and GM reported ruptures in newer side airbags not currently covered as part of the NHTSA investigation.

A lawsuit brought against Takata by the Solis family detailed how Carlos Solis died earlier this year from the airbag fault following a minor road accident that he should have survived.

Solis was waiting to turn left into an apartment complex when an oncoming car struck the front-left corner of his 2002 Honda Accord at under 30 miles per hour. On impact, the defective Takata airbag exploded, sending a large piece of metal shrapnel flying into the cabin. The shrapnel hit Solis’ neck, tore his windpipe, and he died from bleeding while his younger brother and an 11-year-old cousin tried to save him.

A list of all cars affected by the faulty Takata airbags can be found here.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]