Airbag Injury
Recent Takata Air Bag Death Highlights Failings of Recall System

In December 2017, Honda and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration confirmed that, in July, a faulty Takata air bag inflator had caused another death. The victim was driving a 2004 Honda Civic, and the air bag ruptured during a crash, releasing deadly shrapnel into the vehicle’s interior cabin.

The death last year was the 20th linked to the faulty inflators since Honda issued the first recall 15 years ago. What began as a relatively small recall of Honda vehicles has gradually grown to be the largest U.S. automotive recall on record. And in January 2018, another 3.3 million vehicles from 14 automakers joined the list of recalled vehicles, bringing the total number of recalled vehicles in the U.S. to about 40 million.

What’s especially frightening about this recall is that as of November 2017, no automaker had completed all recall repairs. Mercedes Benz had completed only 2 percent of its recall repairs; Honda had completed 65 percent.

There are several reasons why automakers haven’t repaired all recalled cars:

  • Automakers are waiting on the parts they need to make the repairs.
  • Consumers are ignoring recall notices.
  • In cases where vehicles have changed ownership many times, current owners may be unaware of the recall, because they’re not receiving recall notices.

Now, at least one organization is saying automakers can – and must – do more to ensure all consumers are aware of recalls.

A Call for Action

Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, issued an analysis in November 2017 that said, “Some automakers seem to be outright failing in meeting their responsibilities to consumers.” The authors of the analysis said automakers have the means of reaching consumers about the Takata recall, but they aren’t using all the tools at their disposal.

David Friedman and William Wallace, authors of the analysis, observed that automakers have tools – such as targeted online ads that marketers use to sell cars –that they could easily use to notify consumers about recalls. They alleged automakers could also do a better job of considering Spanish-speakers in communications about recalls.

Why Consumers Ignore Recalls

The driver who died in the 2017 accident had reportedly received several recall notices for her 2004 Honda, but never had the car repaired. According to a 2012 survey of auto engineers, owners of older-model cars have a lower recall response rate than owners of newer-model cars.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute last year released results of a study about the main reasons consumers ignore vehicle recalls. The study found the top reasons for ignoring recalls were:

  • Can’t/don’t want to give up vehicle for repairs (37 percent)
  • Worry dealership will try to perform additional unanticipated repairs (38 percent)
  • The wait to have the repair was too long (36 percent).

The study also found that 72 percent of respondents would take their car in for repairs if the wait was one week or less.

With a good public outreach campaign, automakers might be able to assuage the concerns of consumers who are reluctant to have recall-related repairs.