The federal government has levied a $14,000 per day fine against air bag manufacturer Takata Corp. for failing to cooperate with a safety investigation over causes for its air bag inflators rupturing, a defect that has resulted in at least four deaths in the U.S, reported Detroit Free Press.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the fine Friday morning at a ceremony in Richmond, Va., where he and Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, called on Congress to pass legislation requiring rental car companies and used car dealers to fix safety defects before renting or selling vehicles subject to a recall.
The fine represent the government's latest tactic in a clash that has been going on since 2008. The recall has expanded to cover about 17 million vehicles in the U.S., of which automakers have replaced the air bags in nearly 2 million, said NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge.
"Safety is a shared responsibility and Takata's failure to fully cooperate with our investigation is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," said Foxx. "For each day that Takata fails to fully cooperate with our demands, we will hit them with another fine."
Takata said it was "surprised and disappointed" by Foxx's action and took issue with the contention the air bag supplier had not been fully cooperative.
In December, NHTSA issued two special orders to Takata requiring the company to provide documentation and other material relating to the agency's ongoing investigation. The agency contends Takata has not fully complied with those orders.
NHTSA has said inflators in Takata bags may rupture and explode, particularly in very humid climates, spreading metal shards that have been tied to at least five deaths in the U.S. For passenger-side air bags the recall is limited to Florida, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Puerto Rico.
Five automakers with driver-side Takata bags that could be at risk have expanded their recalls nationwide.
Takata said it provided NHTSA with almost 2.5 million pages of documents and has been communicating regularly with the agency. Neither Takata, the 10 automakers nor NHTSA have discovered the root cause of the malfunction.
"We continue to keep NHTSA closely informed on the extensive testing efforts we have undertaken," the company's statement said. "That work has, so far, supported our initial view that age and sustained exposure to heat and humidity is a common factor in the small number of inflators that have malfunctioned."
After reports of at least one death and other injuries in non-humid regions, NHTSA in December expanded the recall nationwide for driver-side bags, but Takata has resisted. The Japanese-based supplier is conducting its own investigation led by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner.
Separately, the 10 automakers who installed Takata bags have come together to hire an independent expert to investigate the cause of the malfunction. Five automakers have expanded their recalls to the entire country.
Consumers can determine if the vehicle they plan to rent or buy has an open recall that needs to be addressed by using NHTSA's free Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) look-up tool https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin.
NHTSA's Safercar mobile app on both provides users free access to key safety information, including recalls and safety performance.
In addition to imposing the fine, Foxx urged Congress to pass the Grow America Act which would extend to rental cars and used cars the existing requirement that all outstanding recalls be repaired before they are sold.
The most recent fatality related to Takata's air bags occurred Jan. 18 in Spring, Texas, near Houston. It involved a 2002 Honda Accord, which was purchased used while under recall, but neither the previous owner nor the dealer had the air bag replaced.
The Harris County medical examiner's preliminary report said the driver, Carlos Solis,died of blunt force injuries to the neck.
The Grow America Act would fund infrastructure projects needed to promote economic growth, and enhance safety and efficiency. It also seeks to boost NHTSA's budget to $908 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, including increasing the agency's defect investigation budget to $31.3 million – approximately triple the current level. It also would raise the maximum penalty NHTSA could levy for failure to report safety defects from $35 million to $300 million.