Company Refuses to Recall 67 Million Potentially Deadly Airbags

·2 min read
Close-up of passenger airbag indicator light on dashboard of a car.
Close-up of passenger airbag indicator light on dashboard of a car.

Close-up of passenger airbag indicator light on dashboard of a car in Lafayette, California, February 7, 2020. Many new vehicles automatically disable the passenger airbag if a passenger is below the weight requirement for safe airbag operation.

ARC Automotive Inc is refusing to recall 67 million airbag inflators that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says have already killed two people and injured seven others in the U.S. and Canada.

A letter posted by NHTSA late Friday says it found the inflators pose an unreasonable risk to drivers after and eight-year-long investigation, according to the Detroit Free Press:

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The agency contends that welding debris from the manufacturing process can block an “exit orifice” for gas that is released to fill the air bag in a crash. Any blockage can cause pressure to build in the inflator, blowing it apart and hurling metal fragments, Ridella’s letter says.

But in a response to Ridella dated May 11, ARC Vice President of Product Integrity Steve Gold wrote that NHTSA’s position is not based on any objective technical or engineering conclusion about a defect, “but rather conclusory statements regarding hypothesized blockage of the inflator orifice from ‘weld slag.’”

He wrote that welding debris has not been confirmed as the cause in any of the seven inflator ruptures in the U.S. ARC contends that only five have ruptured while in use, and that “does not support a finding that a systemic and prevalent defect exists in this population.”

Gold also writes that manufacturers must do recalls, not equipment manufacturers like ARC. NHTSA’s recall demand, he wrote, exceeds the agency’s legal authority.

The next step for NHTSA is to hold a public hearing on the investigation and potentially force a recall. NHTSA recalls rarely come to this point; most automakers and suppliers voluntarily go forward with a recall when a defect is found. GM is going ahead with a recall of nearly a million vehicles with ARC airbag inflators after a woman died in a minor crash when a piece of shrapnel hit her in the neck while driving her a 2015 Chevy Traverse. NHTSA estimates at 51 million cars from at least a dozen automakers will be affected by a recall

ARC Automotive was also sued last year over its airbag inflators over the ammonium nitrate propellant used in the bags, the AP reports. That’s the same defect that led to the largest recall in U.S. history — 67 million airbag inflators — from the company Takata back in 2015. However, millions of airbags have yet to be replaced. Those defective units continue to injure and kill drivers to this day. As of December 2022, shrapnel from Takata airbag inflators have killed at least 24 people in the U.S.

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