The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), invoking a long-dormant power, may take control of the long-running and expanding Takata airbag inflator recall. The agency was to file a notice in the Federal Register today that detailed its plans for a hearing next month. In announcing the plans to Automotive News yesterday, the federal agency said it would seek input at the hearing that would allow it to handle massive recall. The agency also plans to use the hearing to:
Detail the progress of the massive airbag-related recall
Discuss details of its efforts to coordinate the massive recall
The recall grew dramatically in scope in May when Takata, the number two manufacturer of airbags, agreed to an NHTSA order in which it stated there was a fault with its inflators. Until that time, the recall figures, covering 10 automakers and about 25 million cars, jumped to 34 million vehicles and 11 car companies. The recall involves a problematic airbag inflator that, in the process of deployment, can burst apart hurling shrapnel throughout the passenger compartment. To date, eight deaths and more than 100 injuries have been linked to the failed devices.
In yesterday’s announcement, the agency announced it would use authority, granted in 2000, but never used before. The authority allows the agency to prioritize and control the flow of replacement parts in a recall. If needed, the agency can also issue an order speeding up the recall. The trade paper indicated that, depending on the final details, the order may give NHTSA an unprecedented degree of control over the airbag inflator recall. The agency will hold the hearing on Oct. 22 in Washington at the offices of the Department of Transportation.
When Takata signed the consent agreement in May, a highly critical NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, whose appointment to the agency last year marked a recent turning point in its level of activism, called current recall efforts as a “patch-work solution that NHTSA believes may not adequately address the safety risks presented by the defective Takata inflators within a reasonable time.”
In a statement issued yesterday, the NHTSA chief emphasized that the hearing will represent an opportunity to provide “millions of Americans” who are “are affected by Takata-related recalls” the information the agency has gathered since “since launching the coordinated remedy proceeding in May.” He called the hearing an “essential element in removing defective air bags from our roads and protecting public safety.” He also believed that the hearing will also help public understanding of “the risks involved, what NHTSA and the auto industry are doing to address them, and how affected vehicle owners can take action to protect themselves and their families.”