The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires automakers to report information about warranty claims that affect consumer safety. Honda Motor Company was recently fined $70 million for failing to report information on over 1,700 death and injury claims related to defects in vehicle airbags.
The fines are actually two separate ones of $35 million each, the maximum amount currently allowed under U.S. law. The first fine was ordered for Honda’s failure to report 1,729 death and injury claims from 2003 to 2014. The second is for failing to report issues related to warranty claims and repairs due to safety issues. Under the Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation Act, automakers may be fined as much as $7,000 per day for neglecting to report injuries arising from warranty claims.
Vehicles with defective airbags contained casings that ruptured abruptly, thereby causing the airbag to explode. The airbags in question were produced by Takata, and were placed into several models such as the Accord, Civic and Odyssey. In all, nearly two million Honda vehicles have been recalled in the United States. Some of these recalls have been limited to only hot-weather states, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, since high humidity increases the odds of an airbag exploding.
Honda vehicles aren’t the only ones that contained defective Takata airbags, as they were also placed into Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, BMW, Ford and Chrysler automobiles as well. Nissan recently announced a recall of 755,000 vehicles, while Toyota plans to recall as many as 2.8 million. Chrysler is currently conducting an investigation, which will likely result in recalls for a number of 2006 Dodge Chargers.
Many groups are not only blaming Honda, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well. It seems NHTSA knew about the airbag defects as early as 2011, yet waited until the end of 2014 to take action. Critics surmise that bureaucratic “red tape” associated with the agency’s Early Warning Reporting system bogged down the process and actually resulted in less information being taken in.
The Honda airbag problem isn’t the first to be criticized. The NTHSA also delayed taking action against Toyota for its unintended acceleration problem and General Motors for its ignition switch defect. Mark Rosekind, the administrator of the NHTSA admits there are “gaps” within the organization, and that further restructuring is needed in order to improve when and how potential problems are handled.
Honda is claiming that data entry and/or computer programming errors led to the lack of disclosure. A watchdog group known as the Center for Auto Safety reported gaps in Honda’s injury-reporting process are serious, and should also result in criminal sanctions against the automaker. The Justice Department is currently investigating, and will eventually determine whether or not criminal charges will be brought.