U.S. regulators and a consortium of 10 automakers are making appropriate and effective efforts to eliminate malfunctioning automotive airbags that can kill or maim.
Their actions go a long way toward resolving the largest auto safety recall in U.S. history. But much more is necessary before U.S. motorists can trust that a vital auto safety system is reliable.
Airbags are proven safety devices. They have saved tens of thousands of lives. But malfunctioning airbag inflators made by Takata that have killed 10 people and injured more than a hundred have created a frightening new reality of safety devices that cause harm. Takata's defense of its ammonium nitrate propellant and its delaying tactics slowed a remedy for years.
Kudos to regulators and automakers for bypassing Takata and taking control of fixing the problem. Thanks to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for coordinating and accelerating the recalls. Thanks to automaker-funded investigators for quickly determining a root cause of the Takata inflator failures. Thanks to NHTSA for setting priorities on the order in which airbags are replaced. Thanks to suppliers for speeding replacement inflator production.
Thanks to NHTSA for requiring Takata to prove by the end of 2019 that ammonium nitrate is safe or else recall every ammonium nitrate inflator.
That's the key aspect. If Takata can prove ammonium nitrate is safe as an airbag inflator propellant, it will prevent needless recalls. If Takata fails, even more massive numbers of airbag inflators must be replaced, a task that could take many more years.
But it's urgent to resolve the question. If the recall system gets it wrong, people will continue to die, and this crisis will drag on indefinitely.