Takata airbags have been a disaster for car manufacturers and drivers around the world. These dangerous, poorly engineered airbags kill people, even in collisions where the person would be safe without the airbag being present. Takata got its start by making parachutes for the Japanese Imperial army for World War II, but later started making seat belts for Japanese car manufacturers in 1960. The seatbelts were so good that they were the only seatbelt to pass the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) crash testing in 1973. Honda later approached Takata and asked it to look into making airbags, which it did. The problem though is that airbags are heavily engineered products and have to be made correctly, which Takata failed to do.
Airbags work by creating a controlled explosion to inflate the airbag within a few milliseconds of a collision. An aspirin sized tablet of a propellant is ignited, turning it from a solid to a gas. Takata started making airbags with sodium azide, but it was difficult to work with. It exploded easily if it was jostled or exposed to air or light. It was also toxic if inhaled and left residue in cars after deploying. The second chemical tried was tetrazole, which was a much safer alternative and was just as effective. Takata wanted a cheaper material, and finally decided to use ammonium nitrate, which is a far more unstable chemical under certain conditions. With changes in temperature and humidity, tablets would swell and shrink and turn into a powder. In a powder form the chemical makes a larger, uncontrolled explosion. The engineers at Takata even told their bosses that using ammonium nitrate would be a mistake, and people would die if it was used. This advice was ignored and people have become injured and killed as a result. Mild collisions deploy the airbags and send metal shrapnel into drivers, severely injuring and sometimes killing them.
With all these problems, the United States government has fined Takata $70 million and will add an additional $130 million if it fails to comply with Federal safety standards. Its competitors have also swooped in and taken market share away from the company. Takata cannot meet the demand of all the replacement airbags, so competitors have stepped in and started making parts. Seventy percent of replacement parts are being made by competitors and Takata’s market share has dropped from 17 percent to five percent.
If you have been injured by an exploding airbag or by some other product, Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C. may be able to help. Call 412-471-3980 or fill out our contact form to speak to an attorney and learn your options.
Craig Trudell, Jeff Plungis, Margaret Cronin Fisk, and Susan Berfield, “Sixty Million Car Bombs: Inside Takata’s Air Bag Crisis” Bloomberg Businessweek (June 2, 2016). [Link]