WASHINGTON (AP) — People whose cars have been recalled to fix air bag inflators made by Takata Corp. should get the repairs done as soon as possible or face a serious risk of death or injury, U.S. safety regulators said Thursday.
Speaking at a public meeting on the massive recalls Thursday, officials of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said eight people have died and 98 more have been hurt because of inflators that can explode with too much force, spewing shrapnel into drivers and passengers.
About 23.4 million Takata driver and passenger air bag inflators have been recalled on 19.2 million U.S. vehicles sold by 12 auto and truck makers. As of Oct. 9, only 22.5 percent of the recalled inflators had been replaced nationwide. The figure was 4.4 percent on Sept. 1.
NHTSA is considering taking over management of the recalls. At the meeting, officials said people have suffered cuts to the neck, loss of eyesight and hearing, and broken teeth. The agency knows of 89 driver's side and 32 passenger inflator ruptures. All eight known deaths involved driver's side air bags.
"NHTSA is considering a number of steps under the authority Congress has given us that could accelerate repairs and ensure that the inflators that present the greatest safety risk get replaced first," NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said.
The agency plans to make a decision on management of the recalls by Thanksgiving.
While the percentage of inflators replaced has grown, the progress is "simply not good enough to address the risk these vehicles pose to the driving public," said Jennifer Timian, head of NHTSA's recall management division, said during the meeting. Officials said it's difficult to estimate how long it will take to fix all of the cars because of the size and complexity of the recall.
Currently only auto company dealers are allowed to make the repairs. Among the options NHTSA is looking at to speed up the recalls is allowing other repair shops to do the recall work. The agency also will consider hiring a person to oversee the recalls and deal directly with the auto manufacturers.
Agency officials also cautioned that the recalls, which date to 2004, could expand beyond driver and passenger front air bags. Volkswagen and General Motors recently recalled Takata inflators in seat-mounted side air bags.
NHTSA recently sent letters to seven more companies seeking information and warning that the recalls could be expanded. Last weekend, GM said that it was recalling more than 400 vehicles because the side air bag inflators could rupture and send shrapnel into drivers and passengers, according to the company and documents posted by the safety agency.