Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence, and Poisoning Prevention

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Sunday, October 25, 2015 | Washington, D.C.

Secretary Anthony Foxx
U.S. Department of Transportation
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
As Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon.

For too many years now, American drivers – and indeed vehicle owners all over the world – have had to worry about whether their car’s air bags might harm them instead of protect them in a crash.

This fear is unfortunately real because we know that air bag inflators made by a company called Takata are prone to explosive ruptures, sending jagged metal fragments flying into the passenger compartment.

To date, these ruptures are responsible for seven U.S. deaths and nearly 100 injuries

Over the years, in response to questions from safety regulators and its customers, Takata has said it had isolated the problem, said it had uncovered the mistakes that led to the ruptures, and it has pledged that its products are safe.

But the ruptures have continued.

Last June, the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a formal investigation into Takata’s air bag inflators.

Through that investigation, we have sought evidence from Takata and vehicle manufacturers, examined millions of pages of documents, consulted with independent experts, started our own testing program and examined test results from industry.

This May, we forced Takata to declare a defect and expand its inflator recalls by millions. And we launched a formal, public process for deciding whether, and how, to make unprecedented use of our authority to speed up these recalls.

Today we are laying out the results of the investigation, and they are troubling.

For years, Takata has built and sold defective inflators. It refused to acknowledge that they were defective. It provided incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information to NHTSA, to the companies using its inflators, and to the public.

Those failures put millions of Americans at risk. It’s a mess. And today, DOT is stepping in to clean up the mess.

NHTSA has issued two orders that initiate a series of steps to protect the public.

We’re speeding up these recalls, ordering manufacturers to replace defective inflators months, if not years, earlier than would happen if we took no action, and ordering them to make sure the consumers at greatest risk are protected.

We are addressing concerns about ammonium nitrate, the chemical Takata has used to power its inflators.

We believe this chemical is a factor in these ruptures, and the combination of Takata’s delays and denial, plus unexplained issues with ammonium nitrate inflators not already under recall, leave us without confidence in these products going forward.

So, we are ordering Takata to phase out production of new inflators using ammonium nitrate. And, unless new evidence emerges, the company will have to recall all its ammonium nitrate inflators.

Also, we are holding Takata accountable for its actions. We are imposing the largest civil penalty in NHTSA’s history.

We are imposing additional oversight, including an independent monitor to help oversee the company’s conduct. We are requiring significant changes in the company’s safety practices and culture.

The company is dismissing some employees as a result of our investigation. These steps can’t reverse the harm these inflators have caused, but they make clear that such behavior will not be tolerated.

I want to acknowledge that Takata has committed to taking significant steps to address this crisis, and that automakers have given NHTSA significant cooperation in developing the Coordinated Remedy plan. Industry’s continued cooperation will be essential as DOT works to clean up this problem.

But we should not have to be here. DOT should not have to place itself in the middle of a massive safety recall. Record-setting civil penalties are not something to brag about. And American drivers should not have to worry that a device designed to save their life might take it.

Delay, misdirection, and refusal to acknowledge the truth allowed a serious problem to become a massive crisis. And that has left DOT with no choice but to take unprecedented steps to protect public safety.

I want consumers to know that this Department is committed to using all our authority to protect them. And I hope the auto industry will take notice of the damage this crisis has done – damage to corporate reputations, to corporate bottom lines, and to innocent Americans injured and killed by these inflators.

With that, I’ll hand it over to NHTSA Administrator Rosekind.