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NHTSA recalls more Takata airbags but leaves many in place

After reviewing the risks of Takata airbags installed in 56 million vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recalled only a minority of the potentially dangerous airbags. Safety watchdogs are concerned that NHTSA lacks a clear vision for keeping drivers safe.

The issue of Takata airbags has been ongoing since at least 2013, when over 100 injuries and 16 deaths were reported from airbags that ruptured during deployment. These ruptures caused broken metal parts of the assembly to go flying through the passenger cabin like shrapnel.

There have been two rounds of recalls of Takata airbags, which were installed in a variety of makes and models. Yet even after Takata declared bankruptcy in 2017, a successor company TK Global was set up to continue supplying airbags of a slightly different design. These were installed in new vehicles and used to replace recalled airbags.

Last year, NHTSA asked TK Global and a consortium of 10 carmakers to submit reports about the risks of continuing to use airbags from TK Global. They submitted reports in December, but NHTSA didn't release the results until this month.

NHTSA has now issued a recall of 371,000 Volkswagens with TK Global airbags on the driver's side:

· 2012-2019 Volkswagen Beetle coupes and convertibles

· 2012-2014 Volkswagen Passat sedans

The recall will be phased in over the next five years.

There might be little risk now, but what about over time?

Safety advocates are concerned that NHTSA may have unduly limited this recall. Even with the newer design, they still could rupture, which is why some are being recalled.

That said, both TK Global and Volkswagen say there have been no crashes, injuries or fatalities related to the newer style of airbags.

Unfortunately, problems with airbags can develop over time with age and exposure to heat and humidity.

A company hired to review the airbags reported that they could fail in as soon as 12 years, while some might still be OK for 30 years or more. NHTSA took this as evidence that the airbags "do not pose [a] risk to safety in the coming years."

Yet previous airbag recalls have taken more time than expected to complete. Carmakers have had difficulty locating and contacting all the owners and with getting replacement airbags. "Why not go ahead and require automakers to schedule recalls for a few years before they're expected to start failing?" said a spokesperson for Consumer Reports.

NHTSA concedes its work is not done.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a ruptured airbag, contact an attorney right away.

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