Over 16 Million Dangerous Airbags Still on Roads in the United States

There are over 16 million cars in the United States operating with faulty airbags. Despite the largest automotive recall of 50 million airbags in the history of the industry, over a third of these airbags are still in widespread use. Another ten million are expected to be recalled in the first quarter of 2019. From Fords and Cadillacs to Range Rovers and Nissans, these popular airbags which appear all kinds of vehicles can lead to serious bodily harm and even death.

These airbags were manufactured by Takata. Their faulty components are metal canisters with ammonium nitrate. The ammonium nitrate is used to create a small explosion within the airbag to deploy it during a collusion. Unfortunately, these airbags, their components, and the ammonium nitrate inside them can explode with too much force. Due to the force created by the ammonium nitrate, the metal components within the canister inside the airbag explode—blowing apart the metal canister into small shards and propelling these pieces into the front seat area . These pieces essentially become shrapnel and can literally kill the drivers and passengers the airbags are designed to protect.

From Live-Preserving to Life-Threatening: Why Takata Airbags are Dangerous

The ammonium nitrate within the airbag canister degrades over time—making older model airbags more dangerous. As the ammonium nitrate degrades, it becomes unstable. The process is made worse when the ammonium nitrate is exposed to high heat and humidity. Exposure to these conditions makes the ammonium nitrate more porous and volatile. Drivers in states near the Gulf of Mexico are at a higher risk for injury caused by faulty airbags because of the hot and humid climates they live in.

Instead of creating the small explosion necessary to inflate the airbag, unstable ammonium nitrate inside the bag’s metal canister shreds the cannister into metal fragments, which then come through the deployed airbag into the interior of the car. The explosion paired with the metal fragments of the airbag canister can inflict serious injury and even kill drivers and passengers. So far, 23 people have been killed by faulty Takata airbags.

Safety Experts Urge Drivers to Replace Their Airbags

The nature of the Takata recall and the slow rate at which these airbags are being replaced is cause for concern for safety experts and consumer advocates in the automotive industry. Due to the extremely dangerous nature of the faulty airbags, experts feel that airbags are not being replaced quickly enough to prevent more accidents.

Jason Levine of the Center for Auto Safety, a non-profit organization, is concerned about the slow rate at which these airbags are being replaced. Since the recall announcement ten years ago, Mr. Levine remarked that “The numbers speak for themselves: In a matter of weeks there will be over 25 million unrepaired recalled Takata air bag inflators remaining on the roads.”

While the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) is in charge of reaching out to consumers about this recall, there are steps drivers can take to determine if their vehicle is affected by these faulty airbags. Upon urging from safety advocacy organizations, the NHTSA has expanded its outreach to consumers by mailing out multilingual post cards and visiting the homes of drivers whose cars have faulty airbags. Given the nature of the situation, however, these efforts might be insufficient for replacing faulty airbags quickly.

What Drivers Can Do to Replace their Airbags

Drivers can visit www.nhtsa.gov/recalls and www.airbagrecall.com for more information. Consumers are urged to enter in their 17-digit vehicle identification numbers (VIN) for accurate information on whether they are affected. They can also view a list of make and models affected if they do not have access to their VIN. If their vehicle(s) are affected, authorized dealerships will replace airbags free-of-charge.

For up-to-date information on recalls, the NHTSA recommends that drivers sign up for email alerts. This service will provide timely updates on future recalls that might affect vehicle owners.