There have been countless recalls of vehicles over the years, but the recent Takata airbag recall was one for the history books impacting about a hundred million vehicles worldwide. It also drove one of the world’s major vehicle parts manufacturers out of business.

What is Takata?

Takata was a Japanese auto parts manufacturer that, before this recall, supplied airbags to vehicle manufacturers worldwide. It was founded by the Takada family in the 1930s as a textile maker, according to Bloomberg. In 1960, it started making seat belts for Japan’s automakers. It was a major supplier to Honda, which asked the company to consider making airbags for its vehicles.

Due to the recall of its airbags across the globe and lawsuits against the company, it sought bankruptcy protection in 2017 and ceased operation. 

What is an Airbag?

An airbag is a vehicle safety device. They’re located in the center of steering wheels, inside pillars that run from the vehicle body to the roof, and in dashboards. When they work correctly, airbags provide an extra layer of protection beyond seat belts and other safety features. 

Airbag devices are wired to sensors and a miniature computer. They should inflate during a collision, cushioning occupants in the hopes injuries will be reduced or eliminated. The problem with Takata airbags is that for some occupants, they were a greater threat than the crash.

Airbags don’t fill with air. When they deploy, they fill with gas created by burning a propellant. Propellants are burned in jet engines to produce thrust, they’re in cartridges that propel bullets from guns, and they cause explosions in mining and demolition. In an airbag, the propellant is an aspirin-size tablet placed in an inflator, a metal tube. 

How would this work?

  • The impact of a crash is felt by sensors
  • They send signals to the computer
  • It relays electrical signals to the inflator
  • Which ignites the propellant
  • It fills the bag with a gas within milliseconds
  • Cushioning your impact

Every US car sold since 1989 has had to have airbag devices. It’s estimated airbags save about 2,500 lives a year. Vehicles have thousands of parts. Airbag devices might be one of the most highly engineered parts.

What Was Wrong With Takata Airbags?

When the propellant ignites, it must do so fast enough for the vehicle occupant to strike the bag when it’s fully inflated. This takes a tiny fraction of a second. But given that it’s explosive, it can’t be too powerful, or it may explode the airbag device and the car interior near it.

Takata experimented with different propellants and decided to use ammonium nitrate, which was far cheaper than another chemical, which was more stable, more expensive, and its supplies were limited.

Company officials knew ammonium nitrate was potentially dangerous but proceeded anyway. Problems arose after the chemical in the airbag degraded. It could ignite during a crash with too much force, turning the air bag device into a small bomb. Drivers were seriously injured and killed after metal parts flew out of the steering wheel and into their bodies. Some bled to death because a metal part cut a major artery.

Honda started recalling vehicles with potentially defective airbags in 2008. Takata agreed to start recalling cars in 2015. In January 2017, the company pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges. It paid $1 billion in criminal penalties due to the company’s fraudulent conduct concerning the sales of its defective airbag inflators.

Takata airbags caused 19 deaths and more than 400 injuries in the US. Takata was under pressure to supply its growing number of customers and took shortcuts with safety. This led to dangerous, defective airbags being sold to the public. Their decisions came back to haunt the company, eventually causing it to close.

Takata was trusted by some of the world’s biggest and most prestigious automakers. Their conduct shows that any company is susceptible to risking the lives and health of consumers if enough money’s at stake.

Do I Have a Defective Takata Airbag in My Car? If so, What Can I Do About It?

If you haven’t replaced the airbag in your car or recently bought a used car and you’re not sure if it’s been replaced, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has two helpful pages:

Contact the local dealer for your car’s brand if the airbag hasn’t been replaced. They should install a new one at no cost to you.

Which Vehicle Accident Attorney Should I Trust?

The skilled Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. product liability attorneys have helped hundreds of people in Houston and throughout Texas win their negligence and product liability cases so they could receive the compensation they deserve.

We’re standing by to fight for you if you’ve been injured or lost a loved one due to a defective vehicle. Call us today at 713-893-0971 to schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers.