While many accidents are caused by distracted or aggressive driving, some still occur because of unresolved mechanical defects. You likely remember hearing about the Takata airbag scandal, which was responsible for the deaths of many drivers. The issue is so widespread that as many as 11 million cars are still on the road with Takata airbags.
When these airbags deploy during a crash, they send shards of shrapnel hurtling toward the driver and passengers. It’s hard to avoid these projectiles in time, especially during a collision. ABC News 7 reports on one of the most tragic Takata airbag fatalities, still occurring 13 years after the initial recall.
What caused the Takata airbag problem
Officials became aware of the Takata airbag problem thanks to vehicles in excessively humid climates. These airbags have defective foil seals that result in moisture leaking onto the ammonium nitrate, which triggers the airbags. The airbags lack a chemical drying function, allowing them to deploy even when there’s no cause. The inflators often rupture during this process, flinging pieces of metal toward riders.
The story of Jewel Brangman
Jewel Brangman was killed in 2014 after her Takata airbag was deployed during a collision. She was driving a rental car that had yet to receive repairs. As a result, Jewel died due to neck and head wounds from the shrapnel.
According to Consumer Reports, 19 automakers used these airbags in models produced from 2002 through 2015. In the U.S. alone, there have been over 400 injuries and 19 fatalities related to the issue. The NHTSA also says the airbags have caused the deaths of 27 other individuals worldwide.
Replacement airbag shortages have also exacerbated the problem across the world. Despite filing for bankruptcy, Takata factories are still churning out millions of replacement kits each month. Still, experts believe it will be years before every affected model can be fixed. Drivers and workers who use their vehicles in hotter climates are being prioritized.
A few cars are also considered at higher risk for the issue, including early-2000s Acura and Honda models. The 2006 Ford Ranger is considered to be dangerous regardless of climate with the Takata airbag. Rather than wait for a replacement, experts recommend that you stop driving these vehicles as soon as possible.
Thankfully, the recall completion rates were on the rise by the end of 2020. The NHTSA reports that one automaker has fixed over 90% of its vehicles, with others reporting 70% and 80% completion. The DMV and other local agencies have also been doing their part to raise more awareness of the issue. However, two more Takata airbag fatalities were still reported last year.
The government allows many of these vehicles to be sold on used markets, despite the severity of the issue. Many drivers don’t get the problem fixed until it’s too late, and airbag recall updates are still notoriously slow. While uncommon, there have also been reports that replacement airbags are prone to the fatal defect.
A plea to the government
The news team at ABC 7 found that you can still purchase multiple unrepaired cars at GSA auctions nationwide. There is a notice that the vehicles have an open recall, but it does not mention the Takata airbags. Brangman’s father has been very vocal about protecting other drivers and parents from the same tragedy.
Brangman urges the government to stop selling the “ticking time bombs” that killed his daughter. To protect yourself, you can refer to the NHTSA list of affected vehicles. If you’re shopping for an affected used car, its vehicle history report should mention if its Takata airbags were replaced.