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Car Accidents and Defective Airbags

There’s been a lot of attention paid recently, including a post in this blog, to the issue of the faulty ignition switches on models of GM vehicles. Somewhat surprisingly, this has eclipsed the much bigger story of faulty airbags in Toyota and other cars. It turns out that there are many more defective airbags than faulty ignition switches in the vehicles driving around New York City and elsewhere.

The first documented airbag incident occurred in 2004 when an airbag exploded in a Honda Accord, injuring the driver. At that time, Honda did not issue a recall, declaring the airbag explosion to be an anomaly.

Fast forward to 2014. More than 14 million vehicles have been recalled because of faulty airbags. This is five times the number of cars recalled by GM.

In addition to Honda and Toyota, automakers that include BMW, General Motors, Subaru and Mitsubishi have issued recalls about the airbags. Seven other car manufacturers have been affected, according to the New York Times.

Vehicle manufacturers have received reports from car owners that describe the problem succinctly: the airbags can rupture on impact in a car accident. This causes them to release shrapnel, chemicals or both. Honda has received reports of two deaths and more than 30 injuries. Other manufacturers have reported at least 139 injuries.

Honda did not act until recently, despite three more reports of airbag ruptures in 2007. According to the New York Times, the automaker was able to take a relaxed approach to the problem because of weak regulations and a significant gap between what manufacturers know about their vehicles and what they say on the record. The first safety recall of a small number of vehicles – about 4,200 – didn’t occur until 2008. This means that other manufacturers were not aware of the extent of the problem and continued to install the airbags for years after the first incident in 2004.

The Japanese airbag company, Takata, was founded as a textile manufacturer in 1933. It has been working on airbags since the 1960s and is one of the world’s leading suppliers to auto manufacturers.