DETROIT—An exploding Takata air bag has claimed another life, this time a 17-year-old girl whose car crashed near Houston.
The girl is the latest victim of malfunctioning air bag inflators that have killed 10 people in the U.S. and another in Malaysia, touching off the largest automotive recall in U.S. history. More than 100 people have been hurt by the inflators, which can explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and sending shards into drivers and passengers.
The girl was driving a 2002 Honda Civic in Fort Bend County, Texas, when the car crashed and the air bag activated on March 31, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
So far 14 automakers have recalled 24 million U.S. vehicles to replace the inflators, which are powered by the chemical ammonium nitrate. Scientists hired by a consortium of automakers have determined that prolonged exposure to airborne moisture and high temperatures can cause the chemical to deteriorate. The inflator canisters also can allow moisture to enter in areas with extreme humidity.
Completion of the recall repairs have been slowed by a lack of replacement parts. Takata and Honda have recruited other manufacturers to make replacement inflators, but still, only 7.1 million, or about a quarter of the 28.8 million recalled inflators have been replaced.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the Civic collided with another car, setting off the air bags. The vehicle was first recalled in 2011, but despite six recall notices, repairs were never completed, the agency said. Honda said in a statement that it mailed multiple notices to several registered owners.
But Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for NHTSA, said automakers need to do more to reach car owners than relying on mailed notices. “Automakers need to get creative and more aggressive about how they’re reaching these vehicle owners,” he said, adding that the agency plans to “get louder” in its calls for a higher recall completion rate.
Honda has the best completion rate of the 14 automakers which vehicles in the Takata recalls, Thomas said. The company has been using social media and other means to reach out to owners.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office notified NHTSA of the crash on Friday, and investigators inspected the car Wednesday, according to the agency.
NHTSA says the crash shows how important it is for people to get Takata recall repairs made as quickly as possible.
Car owners can go to www.safercar.gov and key in their vehicle identification number to check for any unrepaired recalls.