WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- A watchdog group has asked U.S. regulators to broaden a defect investigation of Takata Corp. airbags to include more vehicles and to see whether replacements used in recalled vehicles are safe.
The airbag recalls, which mainly covered modules installed in 2002 through 2006, should be expanded to include all parts made through 2011, the Center for Auto Safety said in a letter Thursday to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The letter cited a fatal crash in Orlando, Fla., last month involving a car that should have been repaired under a 2011 recall.
The prospect of replacement airbags failing would add to the questions surrounding the recall of 7.8 million cars in the U.S. by 10 automakers to fix airbags that may deploy with enough explosive force to turn the metal housing into shrapnel. NHTSA and Takata officials were expected to meet Thursday to discuss how the company is ramping up production of replacement parts and testing for defective units.
NHTSA had to issue an advisory this month saying that because the safety risk was more severe than initially assessed, owners of the vehicles should get their cars fixed immediately. Toyota Motor Corp. went so far as to suggest occupants not sit in the front passenger seat until repairs are made, and the company said it may seek to allow airbags to be deactivated if parts aren’t readily available.
The Center for Auto Safety letter specifically referenced a Sept. 29 car accident involving a Honda Accord driven by Hien Thi Tran, who died later on Oct. 2. Her death was initially investigated as a homicide because deep cuts on her neck weren’t consistent with crash injuries, Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Kim Montes said in an interview earlier this month.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department blamed the death on the airbag and turned the inquiry back over to the highway patrol, she said at the time. The highway patrol investigation was expected to take at least a month, Montes said on Oct. 18.
In an interview Thursday, she said the crash investigation is awaiting the review of the car by an airbag expert before it can be completed.
It’s not known whether the car had been repaired under the recall prior to the accident.
Honda Motor Co. has said it is awaiting the results of the Florida investigation, and another from last year in a California parking lot, to determine if the incidents should be added to the tally of two other known deaths related to the defect. Honda is also aware of 30 injuries, said Chris Martin, U.S. spokesman for the Japanese automaker.