WASHINGTON -- U.S. lawmakers want consumers to know if the new car they’re buying contains a Takata airbag inflator included in the largest recall in U.S. history.
A report released last week by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., found that Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Volkswagen are still equipping some new vehicles with the type of Takata airbag inflator that U.S. regulators said must be recalled by 2019. The inflators use ammonium nitrate propellant without a chemical drying agent known as a desiccant.
In an oversight hearing by Senate Commerce Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday, Nelson said such new vehicles should include a disclosure that they will be recalled in the future. Nelson is the Senate Commerce committee’s top-ranking Democrat.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he would like to add such a disclosure requirement to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s consent order that requires Takata’s broad cooperation with the agency on the inflator recalls.
“I agree with you that these disclosures should happen to consumers before they are purchasing these new cars,” Foxx said.
Other members of the panel joined Nelson, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who said consumers would be “appalled” to learn that the Takata inflators were still being used on new cars.
In May, NHTSA announced plans to dramatically expand the recalls to include nearly 70 million Takata inflators, setting a schedule to replace them in phases through the end of 2019. The expanded callbacks aim to eventually replace all ammonium nitrate Takata airbag inflators without a drying agent. The defective inflators can rupture and spray drivers with metal shards, a defect linked to 10 U.S. deaths and more than 100 injuries.
Most of the inflators covered by the expansion have not been exposed to the years of high temperature swings and humidity that NHTSA says is necessary to degrade the propellant and cause a rupture. But NHTSA says evidence to date shows they will become defective over time, and the recalls are timed to remove the inflators before the defect occurs.
But until the defect surfaces in the future, NHTSA lacks the authority to prevent the sale of new cars with inflators to be recalled later, Foxx said.
“If there’s a way to use the concurrent consent order to amend it to ensure that people who are buying cars are notified, we’re willing and hopeful to pursue that,” Foxx said. “I don’t think this is a closed book, but our agency within existing authorities has to use evidence available to us, and we do know that these cars will eventually be recalled.”
More work ahead
In the hearing Wednesday, U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, said NHTSA has completed eight of 17 reforms recommended by the Transportation Department’s inspector general last year in a scathing audit of NHTSA.
Shortly after the audit’s release last June, NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind vowed to implement all 17 reforms within a year. In a House oversight hearing in April, Rosekind said the agency had completed six of the reforms and was on track to complete the remaining 11 by June 30.
While recognizing NHTSA’s progress to date, “clearly there is more work to be done,” Thune said in prepared remarks, “and you can expect continued pressure from this committee to increase agency efficiency.”
The 17 recommendations were aimed at improving NHTSA’s collection of safety defect data and the bolstering the processes used by NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigations to analyze safety data.
The inspector general’s audit found that NHTSA’s ability to monitor safety defects was undermined by inadequate staff training, inconsistent investigation processes and haphazard handling of defect data.
Under the five-year highway funding bill enacted in December, NHTSA stands to gain additional funding for its defect investigations operation once the reforms are implemented.