WASHINGTON — Two senior lawmakers are urging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to redouble efforts to speed the replacement of potentially deadly Takata airbag inflators amid concerns about a leadership vacuum at the agency and a persistent shortage of parts.
Figures provided to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., by the independent monitor appointed by NHTSA to oversee the industry’s handling of the Takata recall show that about 30.4 million, or nearly two-thirds, of the 46.2 million inflators recalled nationwide hadn’t been repaired as of mid-May.
“It’s been two years since the first nationwide recall, and we still can’t get these potentially deadly vehicles repaired fast enough,” Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement. “We’ve got to pick up the pace.”
Nelson and the committee’s chairman, John Thune, R-S.D., this month asked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao for an update on repairs for Takata airbags, which have been linked to 11 deaths and about 180 injuries in the U.S.
Their concern stems in part from the fact that NHTSA, which took on the unprecedented role of coordinating the massive recall with automakers and suppliers, has been without an administrator since January, when President Barack Obama’s appointee, Mark Rosekind, left.
An independent monitor is managing the recall program, but lawmakers and safety advocates say senior leadership is needed to keep the issue in the spotlight and support the monitor when problems need to be addressed with the industry. People working as temporary replacements often lack the clout or authority to push new initiatives.
Rosekind was appointed by Obama in late 2014 to fill a NHTSA administrator spot that had been vacant for nearly a year, a period that saw the unfolding of the General Motors ignition switch crisis and a record tide of vehicle recalls.
There are no signs that the Trump administration has begun a search for someone to head NHTSA, which also lacks a deputy administrator. Executive Director Jack Danielson, fourth in the chain of command, is the acting deputy and running the agency.