WASHINGTON -- The driver of a 2002 Honda Accord who died earlier this month in a crash involving a ruptured Takata airbag inflator hadn’t been notified that his vehicle was recalled in June 2014 for the suspect inflators, a Honda spokesman said.
The fatal Jan. 18 crash marked the sixth death linked to inflators made by Takata and highlights some of the pitfalls of the current vehicle recall system.
Successful recalls rely on consumers voluntarily returning to franchised new-car dealerships for repairs. Locating and notifying affected customers can take weeks or months, and actually getting the repairs done can take much longer, depending on the availability of parts. Meanwhile, used cars aren’t subject to many of the consumer-protection laws that prevent the sale of recalled vehicles.
News of the sixth death prompted U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward Markey D-Mass., to call for a “comprehensive update” on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s oversight of the Takata recalls from agency chief Mark Rosekind.
The Senators, who sit on the Senate Commerce Committee that held a hearing on the Takata recalls last November, requested data on the number of vehicles that have been repaired to date, and an update on industry efforts to speed the flow of replacement inflators. They urged NHTSA to conduct its own testing of Takata airbags in addition to testing being done by the consortium of automakers affected by the airbag recalls.
As of Jan. 15, just over 340,000 Honda and Acura vehicles had their airbags replaced, about 6 percent of the nearly 5.4 million Honda and Acura vehicles recalled for Takata airbags since last year, according to a Honda document filed with NHTSA. Owners of another 17,809 recalled vehicles were unreachable because notification letters were unable to be delivered and 145 recalled vehicles had been scrapped, stolen or exported, according to the filing.
More than 24 million vehicles with Takata airbags have been recalled globally since 2008, according to Reuters estimates.
The man who died in the Jan. 18 crash, Carlos Solis IV, bought the 2002 Accord sedan in April 2014 from All Stars Auto Sales, a used-car dealership in Cypress, Texas, near Houston, according to a lawsuit filed in Harris County District Court by the Solis family against American Honda, Takata and the dealership.
April Strahan, a Houston attorney representing the family, told Automotive News late Friday that a joint inspection of the wreckage involving Honda and Takata representatives confirmed that the airbag inflator exploded in the Jan. 18 crash. Strahan, of the Ammons Law Firm in Houston, attended the inspection and said that roughly half of the inflator canister was missing, and pieces had been recovered by law enforcement.
Honda confirmed the rupture later Friday.
"American Honda has confirmed that the Takata driver’s airbag inflator ruptured in the crash of a 2002 Honda Accord on Jan. 18, 2015 in Houston, Texas," Honda said in a statement. "This crash resulted in the death of the driver."
According to the lawsuit, Solis’ vehicle was in a “relatively minor” collision with a 2003 Infiniti G35. When the airbags deployed, the suit says, “the inflator exploded, causing shards of metal to be propelled toward Carlos.” It cites a police report as saying that a piece of metal from the driver’s side airbag struck the driver in the neck.
Both Takata and Honda issued statements this week expressing condolences to the victim’s family.
The Accord had been recalled in 2011 for suspect Takata airbag inflators but hadn’t yet been repaired by the time Solis purchased the car, despite “several mailed recall notifications” mailed to the vehicle’s original owner starting 2011, according to Honda.
The vehicle was then included in a so-called regional recall in June 2014 that was concentrated in high-humidity regions, which included Texas. That recall was expanded nationwide in December to cover 5.4 million Honda and Acura vehicles in the U.S.
But Honda said it hadn’t yet notified Solis about the recall when the accident happened.
“The current owner purchased the vehicle on April 25, 2014, after the recall was initiated, and Honda had not yet sent mailed notification to the current owner at the time of the crash,” a Honda spokesman wrote in an e-mail to Automotive News.
Strahan says the fact that her client was never notified of the recall highlights a major shortcoming in the recall system.
“There’s insufficient tracking of the recall notifications that are sent to the dealerships as well as the owners of the vehicle, and there’s virtually no follow-up,” she said, noting that the current system has not way to confirm that a recall notices are received by owners.