It was four years ago that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation into airbag inflators manufactured by Tennessee-based ARC Automotive after two people were struck by flying shrapnel during car accidents. According to a news report, now, another person has been hurt by an exploding ARC inflator, this time in a General Motors vehicle. NHTSA had estimated that 8 million Fiat Chrysler, Hyundai, Kia and GM vehicles use the company’s airbag inflators.
Injury and Death
The investigation became urgent in 2016 after a crash in Canada where a woman driving a Hyundai was struck and killed by shrapnel from an ARC inflator. However, public records posted by NHTSA show that little progress has been made on this investigation, which started in July 2015 and remains unresolved.
Safety advocates are saying this kind of delay that puts consumers in real danger is simply unacceptable and that it is “painfully obvious” that ARC airbag inflators are defective. The agency has said this investigation remains open as they continue to review information with ARC and the automakers whose vehicles are equipped with these inflators.
Similar to Takata Inflators
ARC inflators are rather similar to the dangerous and defective airbag inflators manufactured by Takata Corporation. Millions of vehicles equipped with Takata inflators have been recalled so far, with millions more to be recalled in the coming months. Both Takata and ARC use ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in fertilizer, as a secondary method of inflating the airbags. So far, at least 23 fatalities have been reported due to Takata airbag inflators. When ammonium nitrate deteriorates due to high heat and humidity, the airbags, during a collision, might explode with additional force, sending shrapnel flying into the vehicle compartment.
The investigation has been slow, worsened by an accusation by NHTSA in October 2016 of ARC stonewalling its investigation. NHTSA threatened the company with a large fine. But, it’s not clear if ARC is cooperating now. The investigation was spurred in 2015 when an Ohio woman was severely injured by an ARC inflator in a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan.
As auto defect lawyers who are representing a number of victims in shrapnel-related defects including those involving defective Takata airbags, we hope NHTSA speeds up this investigation so more serious injuries and deaths are prevented.