Speeches and Presentations

Press Conference to Announce Expansion of Accelerated Takata Air Bag Recalls

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 | Washington, D.C.

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Washington, D.C.
As Prepared for Delivery

Today we are announcing that NHTSA is expanding and accelerating the Takata air bag inflator recall to protect the safety of the Americans. This action follows NHTSA’s confirmation of the root cause of the rupture of Takata air bag inflators. Ruptures of Takata inflators have been tied to ten deaths and more than 100 injuries in the United States.

This new Consent Order will phase in a recall of approximately 35-40 million inflators through 2019. And to be clear, this is in addition to the 28.8 million inflators already under recall. The Takata air bag recall, which we are more than doubling today, is the largest and most complex recall in U.S. history. This issue is urgent. On March 31, we had the tenth confirmed fatality in the United States due to a rupture of a recalled inflator. And just this morning, Honda announced that there have been two more fatalities in Malaysia in just the last three weeks due to ruptures of Takata air bag inflators.

Please, as you report your stories, include this: Vehicle owners who have received notice that there are parts available for their repair should take action immediately. I am now going to take the opportunity now to explain the basis of NHTSA’s decision, how it will go into effect, and how we plan to work with the industry to make sure defective inflators installed in American cars are safe.

First, regarding the root cause determination. The root cause of Takata air bag inflator ruptures is a combination of temperature, moisture and time, except in instances where there is a clear manufacturing error that is at fault. NHTSA has reviewed the findings of three independent investigations into the root cause of the ruptures of phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate air bag inflators that do not contain a chemical drying agent, that is known as desiccant.

We also enlisted an independent expert—Dr. Harold Blomquist—to evaluate and summarize these findings. The findings support and expand upon earlier theories about the root cause where no known errors in manufacturing had occurred. Specifically, the root cause is a combination of time, environmental moisture and high temperature fluctuations that contribute to the degradation of the ammonium nitrate propellant in the inflators. In the event of an air bag deployment, this degradation can cause the propellant to burn too quickly, which creates too much pressure and can rupture the inflator module and send dangerous shrapnel through the air bag, potentially injuring or killing vehicle occupants.

The science now clearly shows that these inflators can become unsafe over time, faster when exposed to high humidity and variations of temperature. The data and information we now have tells us two important things regarding the safety of Takata inflators. First, the Takata inflators do not pose an unreasonable risk to safety when they are installed in a new vehicle or for several years afterward. Second, over time, the combined effect of heat and moisture cause ammonium nitrate propellants to degrade – at varying rates in different conditions – to a point where they are no longer safe and pose an unreasonable risk and should be replaced.

Regarding the expansion. It is important to note that NHTSA did not wait for these results before ordering the recalls. In fact, the recalls are already nearly a full year ahead of where they would be had we decided to wait for these results. As a consequence, all of the air bag inflators responsible for fatalities and injuries in the United States have already been under recall. NHTSA’s action today expands the recall to all Takata frontal air bag inflators that contain ammonium-nitrate and do not contain the drying agent. This expansion is mostly of passenger-side inflators, which are less risky both because of the way they are designed to deploy and because the passenger seat is less frequently occupied.

The recalls will be conducted in five phases initiated between now and the end of 2019. The Amended Consent Order issued today, in combination with the Coordinated Remedy Program, are calibrated to recall each inflator at a time sufficiently in advance of when it poses an increased risk to provide an appropriate margin of safety. While a consumer does not need to be concerned about a Takata airbag before she receives a recall notice, that same consumer should act promptly to get her airbag remedied when she gets a recall notice. This phased approach is supported by the scientific data, and will help to ensure that the most dangerous inflators are targeted first, while making sure that all affected inflators are replaced on an aggressive schedule.

Regarding the remedy challenge. The recall itself is only the beginning of the story. We also need to make sure that vehicle owners get safe replacement inflators installed in their vehicles. As I mentioned, this is the largest safety recall in American history. Air bag inflators are not one-size-fits-all, and replacement inflators need to be specifically engineered for each of the affected vehicle models. This means it takes time before all recalled inflators will be able to be replaced. Last year we announced the Coordinated Remedy Program, in which we work with affected vehicle manufacturers to accelerate the availability of replacement supplies, and target those supplies to the highest-risk vehicles.

We are working with the Independent Monitor to make sure that suppliers understand the market needs and expand production to meet it. The expanded recall announced today will require adjustment of the risk-based recall order prioritization and schedule established in the Coordinated Remedy Program. NHTSA will consult with vehicle manufacturers in the coming weeks to revise that program and provide certainty to American consumers about when they can expect to have their recalled inflators replaced. Everyone plays a role in making sure these recalls are completed quickly and safely. While we acknowledge the supply challenges initially faced by the vehicle manufacturers, we are absolutely not satisfied with the current completion rates of the recalls already under way, and have told the manufacturers that they must do more to strive toward our goal of repairing 100 percent of affected vehicles.

NHTSA will also be expanding our own consumer outreach efforts through our Safe Cars Save Lives program, and will be working with all of our partners to find aggressive and creative new ways to reach affected consumers. Vehicle owners play an important role in making sure their vehicles are safe. All vehicle owners should regularly check SaferCar.gov for information about any open recall on their vehicle and what they can do to have it fixed free of charge. Information about this recall expansion will be loaded into the SaferCar.gov VIN look up tool in the coming weeks for consumers to understand how they may be affected. When a vehicle owner learns that parts are available for their vehicle, they should absolutely bring their vehicle in for repair as soon as possible.

And in conclusion, it is important to note that air bags have saved tens of thousands of lives, and will continue to do so. Americans deserve to have confidence that this vital safety device will protect them and their loved ones in the event of a crash. I want to take a moment to commend Takata for its cooperation and agreement to this large expansion of the recall. Takata’s conduct in this endeavor, and in implementing the Coordinated Remedy Program, suggest that it may be turning the corner toward a stronger and more effective safety and compliance culture. NHTSA will continue to review all data available on the Takata inflators, and will take all action necessary to protect Americans in their vehicles.

Thank you and I’ll take some questions.