The Takata Air Bag Debacle

There are millions of cars out there with ticking time bombs in their dashboards … and steering wheels. Air bags with defective components produced by Takata, a Japanese company that supplied the components to 14 different automakers, who unknowingly installed them in their cars.

Some of these defective bags have spewed bits of metal — shrapnel — into people’s faces, killing at least ten and causing serious injury to 100.

Understandably, people who own cars with Takata air bags are nervous about going anywhere near their cars — let alone getting behind the wheel.

Many more could be injured — and possibly, killed — because there are so many cars in circulation that have the defective bags. Models from Honda (and its luxury line, Acura), Nissan (and its luxury line, Infiniti) as well as vehicles made by Toyota/Lexus, Subaru and Nissan.

But the problem is not confined to Japanese-brand cars. It turns out Takata also supplied air bags to General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, too. The affected cars — that we know about so far — date back to the 2002 model year all the way through to 2015.

The full extent of the problem is not yet known.

A massive recall effort (see here for details) is under way but the logistics are daunting. Literally millions of cars are involved and fixing them all — a major job requiring extensive disassembly of the dashboard and steering wheel — will take months if not years.

Meanwhile, the owners of these vehicles are expected to expose themselves and their families — to a known defective product that is known to be actually as well as potentially very dangerous.

This is pretty outrageous when you stop to think about it.

If, say, it were discovered that a fast food chain’s hamburgers were tainted with e. coli bacteria, there would be an immediate cessation of the sale of those burgers. The chain would not be allowed to sell burgers again until it was known the outbreak had been contained and all the tainted beef taken out of circulation.

Of course, the problem is we’re dealing with cars, not burgers — and it’s hard to tell people they should simply stop using their cars until the problem can be fixed. It’s not realistic — and it’s not fair. People have to get to work, take their families where they need to go. It’s what they bought the car for — to get them around — and unless someone is going to give them a loaner, what else are they going to do?

Keep in mind, it’s not Honda — or Nissan or GM’s or Ford’s — fault. They can’t be expected to give out free long-term loaner cars.

It would bankrupt them.

And Takata — which is bankrupt (or soon will be, after all the claims are settled and fines paid) is in no position to pay for loaner cars to millions of people stuck with cars that might injure or kill them.

But there is a way to address the problem without denying owners of the affected vehicles the right to use their cars.

Just turn the air bags off.

Unlike replacing them, installing an on/off switch — or simply disconnecting the bags — is something easily and quickly done. And once done, the owner has the peace of mind of knowing he and his family members will not be maimed or killed by a defective air bag.

On/off switches have been installed in some vehicles — regular cab pick-up trucks — right from the factory, because of the known danger of the properly functioning air bag to a child riding in a rear facing safety seat.

Allowing owners to have a dealer install a switch to shut off a defective air bag seems both logical and entirely reasonable.

It would take pressure off dealerships — who’ve been left holding the bag (so to speak) for a problem they didn’t cause — and it would greatly reduce the chances of more innocent people being subjected to a danger they didn’t sign up for and a hassle they don’t deserve.

But it’s illegal to disable air bags. Even known defective ones.

The law would need to be changed in order for dealerships to be allowed to install cut-off switches or otherwise “defeat” the defective air bags.

It’s worth noting, meanwhile, that Uncle has told VW it may not sell any diesel-powered cars for the foreseeable future because of the hypothetical “risk” to a minuscule number of computer-modeled “people” from the fractionally higher exhaust emissions of these vehicles. Not one actual person has been shown to have been harmed by a VW diesel — but Uncle is so concerned about this phantom menace he stomped on VW with both of his heavy feet.

But when air bags — which Uncle force-fed to us via mandate — actually kill (and maim) actual people, then Uncle is somehow less concerned.

Apparently, “if it saves even one life” only cuts ice when it’s not Uncle taking the lives.


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