After Canadian Woman’s Death, Will Another Airbag Manufacturer Be Forced To Recall Flawed Inflators?

American and Canadian auto safety regulators are looking into a crash that happened in Newfoundland, where a woman was killed by an exploding airbag inflator made by ARC Automotive Incorporated of Knoxville, Tennessee.

There are 8 million ARC airbag inflators that are currently installed in mainly older U.S. vehicles, and the probe is focused on determining how many, if any, are defective. The scrutiny into the ARC inflators is reminiscent of the Takata Corp. issues, although investigators say the issues are different than the ones that resulted in 69 million Takata airbags being recalled in the U.S.

A Canadian woman was killed on July 8, when an ARC airbag ruptured, sending metal shrapnel into the passenger side of the 2009 Hyundai Elantra she was driving. She may have survived the low-speed accident had she not suffered the shrapnel injuries, wrote Daniel Savoie, a spokesman for Transport Canada, in an email. Her death has caused U.S. and Canadian investigators to look into the cause of the airbag explosion.

“The incident was a low-speed collision, which was expected to be survivable.”

This is yet another death that raises questions about the safety of airbags, which are activated once a car is involved in a crash and are supposed to prevent serious injuries. A sense of urgency has been felt ever since an investigation into an Ohio woman’s injuries by an ARC airbag was opened last year by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA upgraded its investigation to an engineering analysis on Thursday, which is one step closer to an all-out recall.

The NHTSA’s counterpart, Transport Canada, says ARC is cooperating with the investigation, although the airbag inflator manufacturer had no comment regarding the investigation. The probe seems to be focused on vehicles made by Hyundai, Fiat, Chrysler, General Motors, and Kia. Transport Canada issued a statement regarding the status of the investigation.

“Should a safety defect be found, owners will be notified.”

The NHTSA began looking at ARC airbags in July of 2015, after reports that an Ohio woman was seriously injured when her 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan crashed and the airbag ruptured. Investigators also said another injury involving someone in a mid-size 2004 Kia Optima had an ARC inflator installed from the same factory in Knoxville.

Lois Dutton of Ashtabula County, Ohio, was severely injured when her airbag ruptured after her vehicle collided with a snowmobile. In a 2014 interview, Dutton said that she saw a cloud of white smoke and a “flash of white” when the impact caused her airbag to rupture. Luckily, her injuries were not severe enough to cause her to die from her injuries.

American regulators are scrutinizing the hybrid airbag inflators made by ARC that use both a gas and ammonium nitrate, an explosive compound, reports the New York Times. Takata also uses ammonium nitrate in their inflators and acknowledges that it can break down over time, especially in high humidity.

The NHTSA doesn’t believe that humidity is an issue in ARC’s case because of the gas mixture, and is focusing on airbags made between 2000 and September of 2004. The Gleaner reports that the probe is focused on 2.6 million airbag inflators that were installed in General Motor vehicles. The ARC airbag installed in the Elantra involved in the Newfoundland crash was made in China, but it is unknown if any inflators from the Chinese manufacturer were used in other U.S. vehicles.

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