The Ticking Time Bomb Still on the Road
Bloomberg Businessweek|August 30, 2021
Millions of Takata air bags have been recalled around the world. Many remain unrepaired
James E. Ellis

Not quite a decade ago, the potential for defective Takata Corp. air bags to explode in a crash erupted into the global auto industry’s most complex and far-reaching safety crisis in history. Roughly 100 million of them were recalled worldwide. But Ruy Drisaldi, a 42-year-old originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, never learned of the risks until last December, when the air bag in his wife’s used Honda CR-V exploded after another car backed into hers near their home in the southeastern Mexican city of Merida, killing her.

Neither Drisaldi nor his wife, Janett Perez, an American citizen, had received a single warning about the recall, he says. “Someone needs to be held responsible,” he says. “You buy a car with air bags and assume you’re protected. I now realize all the years we had that car, we were driving with a gun pointed to our heads.”

Although the Takata callbacks have largely faded from the public eye in much of the world, Drisaldi’s story is a reminder that the defective parts continue to put drivers at risk. As of early July, more than 14 million still hadn’t been fixed in the U.S. alone, in addition to an unknown but likely substantial number in the rest of the world. That means that millions of car owners like Drisaldi—especially in countries with weak consumer protections—may remain unaware that the propellant used in their cars’ air bags could be degrading as a result of heat and humidity, turning their vehicles into potential explosion hazards.

At least 37 fatalities and 450 injuries allegedly linked to the defective parts worldwide have been reported to U.S. auto safety regulators. Of the deaths, 19 were in the U.S., while others have been reported from all corners of the globe, including in French Guiana, Nigeria, Brazil, Australia, and China.

Perez’s death, caused by a piece of metal that ruptured the bag and struck her neck, added Mexico to the fatalities list. The next day, a friend from Argentina sent Drisaldi a news clip about the exploding Takata air bag inflators and the worldwide recall that ultimately sent the company into bankruptcy. Honda Motor Co. later confirmed that the driver side air bag in Perez’s SUV exploded.

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