According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), Takata air bags have been installed in tens of millions of U.S. vehicles. As of early October, 2016, 11 U.S. fatalities and more than 100 injuries have been linked to a defect in the airbag inflator and propellant devices, causing them to rupture and send metal shards into vehicle occupants during a crash [USDOT NHTSA 2016c and 2016h]. The root cause of the ruptures is the degradation of the ammonia nitrate propellant over time and when exposed to high humidity and fluctuating high temperatures, which in turn causes the propellant to burn too quickly and rupture.
NHTSA, which is charged with ensuring the safety of motor vehicles in the United States, initiated a formal defect investigation of the Takata air bag inflators in June 2014 [USDOT NHTSA 2015f], which resulted in a recall of 28.8 million airbags. Of that total, nearly 11.4 million have been repaired (5.1 million passenger-side air bags and 6.3 million driver side air bag) as of October 7, 2016 [USDOT NHTSA 2016b].
On May 4, 2016, NHTSA expanded the recall to include an additional 35-40 million air bag inflators to the already recalled 28.8 million. The expanded recall of inflators means that all Takata ammonium nitrate-based propellant air bag inflators that do not have a chemical drying agent, also known as a desiccant, will be recalled. The expanded recall will be handled in five phases over the May 2016 to December 2019 period, and based on risk factors, such as an inflator’s age and its exposure to high humidity and fluctuating high temperatures [USDOT NHTSA 2016c].
The Takata air bag recall is the largest safety recall in U.S. history. Takata reached an agreement with NHTSA to pay $200 million in civil penalties and to phase out supplying ammonium nitrate inflators to fulfill existing contracts by no later than December 31, 2018 [USDOT NHTSA 2015c].