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Lawmakers, regulators call for urgency on faulty airbag fixes

Ten major automakers have recalled 11 million vehicles in the U.S. due to faulty airbags made by Takata. The defect can cause the airbags to rupture and spray out parts. So far, the ruptures, which can occur in minor collisions, have been linked to over 30 injuries and several fatalities.

In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged consumers to have their airbags fixed immediately. However, there were not enough parts available to make those repairs when the alert was announced, meaning that consumers could potentially have to wait months to have their airbags repaired. NHTSA's response to the potentially-fatal defect got the attention of Congress and others in government, including the Department of Transportation, which says it will review the safety agency.

As Reuters.com noted on Oct. 23, the ruptures, which can spray metal shards into the faces of those in the car, have been linked to areas that tend to be hot and humid, like Florida. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson was among those calling for manufacturers to make the process of getting the cars repaired more convenient for consumers.

On Oct. 29, NHTSA wrote to Takata and the automakers, calling for a more urgent response and asking for information about what each of them are doing to assist customers in getting their cars fixed, such as offering extended hours and loaner cars. NHTSA's deputy administrator said, "We expect Takata and the manufacturers to act quickly to increase production of replacement airbags and testing of returned airbags."

Government officials are not the only ones concerned about the airbag issue. So are federal prosecutors. However, they are reportedly waiting until cars with the defective airbags have undergone the necessary repairs. Meanwhile, AutoNation, one of the largest sellers of cars in the country, says it will no longer sell vehicles that contain Takata airbags.

With the significant number of vehicle recalls over the past year, consumers, the media and those in Washington are taking greater notice of product defects and demanding quick action by automakers and parts manufacturers. However, this action can come too late for those who are injured or killed due to a defective vehicle. For victims and surviving family members, civil legal action can help bring about a greater level of responsibility in the future while helping them deal with their own financial burdens as the result of an injury or death.

Source: New York Times, "Agency Tells Automakers to Speed Up Airbag Fixes" Aaron M. Kessler and Hiroko Tabuchi, Oct. 29, 2014

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