Fingers point to extended NHTSA investigation after second ARC airbag inflator death

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Safety advocates have stepped up criticism of the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after an explosive airbag inflator that has been under investigation for more than six years killed a second anybody.

NHTSA on Wednesday released recall documents filed by General Motors that revealed the second fatality, the driver of a 2015 Chevrolet Traverse SUV with an inflator made by the Tennessee company ARC burst spitting out shrapnel. No details were given on the place and date of death. The NHTSA said that ARC Automotive of Knoxville has manufactured about 8 million inflators used nationwide in vehicles manufactured by General Motors, Fiat Chrysler (now Stellantis), Kia and Hyundai.

“NHTSA should have been over long ago,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of California-based Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. “It is undeniable that this is a (safety) flaw.”

NHTSA, the agency responsible for keeping America’s cars and roads safe, began investigating ARC inflators in July 2015 after two people were injured by shrapnel. The investigation became more urgent in 2016, when a Canadian woman driving an old Hyundai Elantra was killed by metal airbag fragments. Public records show little progress on the investigation. In April, the agency released a memo saying it was reviewing the volumes of information it had received from the CRA.

Security advocates such as Shahan say the protracted investigation is one example of the deadly consequences that can result from an understaffed and underfunded agency.

The second death should not have happened, Shahan said, and vehicles with faulty ARC inflators should have been recalled more quickly.

The agency, Shahan said, is “grossly underfunded,” but it still should have called for the recall of the ARC inflators. She said that historically the NHTSA has taken little action during Republican administrations, but has stepped up its security efforts when Democrats control the White House.

Messages were left on Wednesday by the Associated press soliciting comments from NHTSA and ARC.

At that time, relatively few vehicles were affected. GM’s recall only covers 550 Chevy Traverse SUVs from model years 2013 to 2017, as well as Buick Enclave SUVs from 2008 to 2017. The automaker said in a statement that the faulty front driver’s airbag inflators were installed. at the factory or as a replacement. airbag modules.

GM documents released by NHTSA on Wednesday show the company is recalling cars with inflators from the same production batch.

“We are making safety recall decisions on the database,” spokesman Dan Flores said in an email. “Based on our investigation, this recall only covers the 550 vehicles included in this field action. “

Customers will be notified of the recall by mail from November 22.

GM has previously said that 1.2 million of its vehicles are equipped with ARC inflators.

ARC inflators are similar to the dangerous devices made by the bankrupt Takata Corp. from Japan. Both use ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate the bags in the event of an accident, and both can blow up metal cans that contain the chemical. But unlike Takata, ARC only uses ammonium nitrate as a secondary method of bag inflation.

Ammonium nitrate can deteriorate when repeatedly exposed to high temperatures and humidity, and it can burn too quickly, making explosions larger.

At least 19 people in the United States and 28 around the world have been killed by the explosion of Takata inflators. More than 400 people have been injured in the United States

In the most recent recall, GM wrote that it discovered the death on September 2 and decided to carry out the recall on October 2. Documents indicate that a GM investigation did not identify any other inflator ruptures involving vehicles involved in the recall.

In 2019, GM recalled 1,145 Chevrolet Malibu sedans from the 2010 and 2011 model years after discovering that a driver had been injured by an explosion from an ARC inflator.

Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said manufacturers have tried in the past to limit the size of recalls, to add more vehicles later, as they did in early cases. Takata.

“Although he left his 2015 investigation dormant, we hope NHTSA learns from its Takata experience on faulty inflators used by several manufacturers,” he said.

With reporting and writings from The Associated Press.


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