Honda Failed to Inform Public About Deadly Airbag Flaw, Investigation Finds

The recalls General Motors has issued due to its deadly ignition switch defect have been making headlines lately, but until the New York Times released the results of a new investigation late last week, almost no one had heard of an airbag rupture problem that Honda took years to report.

Delayed Reaction

In 2004, an Alabama driver was injured when the airbag in a 2004 Accord ruptured, spewing metal fragments.

Honda and the company that manufactured the airbag, Takata, termed the incident an “anomaly.”

As of today, that same flaw has led to the recall of 14 million vehicles manufactured by 11 automakers—five times the volume of the better-known G.M. recalls.

But how soon did Honda know of the danger?

Honda only issued its first recall late in 2008, despite an additional three ruptures in 2007. Only 4,200 cars were covered.

When, just six months after the recall was issued, another airbag not covered by the recall exploded, Honda engineers were able to link the failure to the previous incidents.

And yet Honda did not report the deaths and injuries (even confidentially) to regulators until December of 2011—coinciding with its fifth recall for the same flaw.

Who Is Responsible?

The new investigation says that Honda isn’t the only party responsible for the slow action. The company shares blame with failures in the industry’s reporting process and the hesitance of federal regulators.

Documentation shows that both Honda and Takata offered fluid, ever-changing explanations for the airbag incidents.

The law requires auto manufacturers to report flaws within five business days, regardless of whether a cause has been determined. However, this report requires only the component—in this case, an airbag—to be listed. Nothing more about the circumstances are recorded.

Honda legally complied with requirements, but for none of the four times it was required to report did the automaker include the information that the airbags were at risk for exploding. Federal regulators never asked for more.

Even when federal regulators took note and started an inquiry, it was far from substantive. In fact, the investigation was closed before Takata had even provided all the relevant information.

Two deaths and more than 30 injuries can be linked to Honda airbag ruptures.

Honda’s delay affected other automakers supplied by Takata as well. BMW, Toyota and Nissan were all unaware of possible defects in their vehicles for years, putting off recalls of their own.

To date, complaints for 139 injuries, 37 of which included airbags shooting shrapnel or chemicals at occupants, have been filed regarding Takata-made airbags.

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