March 8, 2016
Ford Motor Company has just announced that it is recalling model years 2004–2006 of its popular truck, the Ranger, due to a defect in its Takata airbags. This defect, identical to the one that has caused millions of Hondas to be recalled worldwide, causes airbags to discharge shrapnel-like bits of metal because they’re opening too forcefully. Tragically, this situation has already led to 10 deaths, but up until now, they have all occurred in Hondas. The most recent death linked to a Takata airbag was that of Joel Knight, a man in South Carolina who ran into a cow on the highway while driving his 2006 Ranger. What should have been a minor accident ended up killing Knight due to the explosion of his Takata airbag; a piece of metal hit him with the force of a bullet, causing him to bleed to death before help arrived.
The issue with the affected airbags is the inflators, which degrade over time when exposed to moisture, an event that is almost impossible to prevent, especially in more humid climates. The moisture fluctuations cause the inflators to malfunction and spew metal into the vehicles when the airbags are triggered. Of course, this can cause even greater injuries than it prevents. Ford had previously recalled some of its Rangers for passenger-side airbag defects but had not reported drivers-side airbag defects prior to Knight’s accident. His is the first death due to a Takata airbag malfunction in a non-Honda vehicle. In its wake, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is likely to recommend expanding the number of recalled vehicles with Takata airbags by five million.
Because of the number of vehicles being recalled and the potential dangers of any Takata airbags that remain in circulation, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) have contacted President Barack Obama requesting that all vehicles with airbags using ammonium nitrate as a propellant in their inflators be recalled. This would likely affect all Takata airbags, with the result that many more cars and trucks would require new airbags.
Takata’s top executives and CEO are expected to resign as a result of this ongoing crisis, which has caused a steep drop in the value of the company and in the public’s level of trust in the Takata name.