Feds: Our Bad, Millions More Airbags Could Be Dangerous

NHTSA site to help drivers see if their car is one of 7.8m affected goes down.

ByABC News
October 22, 2014, 11:32 AM

— -- Federal official say a previous count of the number of vehicles that could be loaded with defective airbags came up short by more than three million, and the government website drivers could use to see if their individual car is on the list is currently down due to “intermittent network issues.”

Monday the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published an urgent plea on its website for more than 4.7 million owners of vehicles with Takata airbags to immediately get the airbags replaced, as the owners had been directed in previous recall notices over the past two years. Auto safety expert Sean Kane told ABC News that the renewed warning is related to the potential for the airbag’s inflator to explode when deployed, sending “shrapnel” into the face of the car’s occupant – a phenomenon allegedly linked to gruesome injuries and a small number of deaths.

“This is literally like having an IED [improvised explosive device] in your car,” Kane said.

Late Tuesday the government revised the number, however, saying actually 7.8 million vehicles have been subject to the airbag recall since 2013.

“The list below corrects the list that accompanied our October 20 advisory, which incorrectly included certain vehicles,” the NHTSA website says, noting that the numbers could change again.

Beyond the list of make and models on the NHTSA website, the federal agency says concerned vehicle owners can contact their manufacturer’s website to search by the vehicle identification number (VIN) to see if the vehicle they drive is one of those under recall. NHTSA has its own VIN lookup website, but as of this report, that function was unavailable due to “intermittent network issues,” according to a posting on the site.

The recall reminder is “especially” urgent for vehicle owners in warm climates like the southern U.S., Hawaii and American island territories. Toyota, a maker of some of the recalled vehicles, said on its website Monday said the “influence of high absolute humidity” in the airbag malfunctions is under investigation.

Earlier this month Florida woman Hien Tran was killed in a mysterious auto accident that police initially treated like a homicide due to the apparent stab wounds on her neck. Later, however, investigators determined her fatal wounds were “consistent with… exploding airbags,” according to The Orlando Sentinel. If confirmed, auto safety experts say Tran’s death would be the fourth linked to the dangerous defect.

NHTSA opened an investigation into the issue back in June, at which time airbag supplier Takata published a statement on its website saying the company “is committed to the highest standards of safety for our customers – and their customers.”

“For the past several months, we have been consistently cooperating with NHTSA, and we will continue to do so during the defect investigation that the agency recently opened, but we also stand by the quality of our products,” says the note, which was reposted on Takata’s website earlier this week. “Takata is committed to ensuring the safety and functionality of its airbag inflators, and we strive to avoid any malfunction.”