The ABC World News reported on Oct. 21 that more than 4.7 million of cars were recalled for their defective airbags that killed drivers. Since it was reported as the top news of the day the effect was startling, similar to the news related to Ebola outbreak in the US. On Oct. 22 the number of the recalled cars climbed to more than 7.8 million. The news was further sensationalized by the fact that the latest victim, Ms. Tran, looked as if “stabbed,” thereby evoking the specter of a nefarious murderer in the form of a car safety device, airbag.
Since all of my family members are heavily dependent upon automobiles, like most Americans, I began to worry and checked the list of the names of the affected cars. Fortunately for us, none of our cars was on the list.
Then I started thinking about the fact related to the airbags manufactured by Takata: how many people died or suffered injuries due to this horrifically defective airbags? The facts were far more ambiguous than straightforward. For instance, Ms. Tran’s Honda Accord was included in an earlier recall, in 2009, but the car’s previous owners did not have the car repaired. Nevertheless, the fact is that Ms. Tran’s car’s airbag seems to have killed her. According to a New York Times investigation in September, “Honda and Takata had failed for years to take decisive action before issuing the recalls. Complaints received by regulators about various automakers blamed Takata airbags for at least 139 injuries, including 37 people who reported airbags that exploded.”
Judging from various online reports, it seems Honda and Takata were aware of the airbag problem as early as 2004 when an airbag exploded in Alabama. Since 2004 several airbag ruptures occurred but lawsuits related to these ruptures were settled out of courts. Thus Honda did not recall all the affected cars until recently. This corporate behavior shows the typical short-term thinking where immediate concern outweighs the long-term health and wealth of the company. I wonder if this kind of short-term thinking helped Honda and Takata at all financially.
It is highly ironical that a safety device turns out to be a killer. It is as absurd as that healthcare workers are at risk from the very disease they help cure.