Automotive Recalls: Are They Enough to Ensure Public Safety on the Roads?

Takata, the world’s fourth-ranked airbag manufacturing company, recently initiated a recall of a number of cars assembled with their products. Since the announcement was made, the number of recalled cars has steadily increased, and Takata has stated that more than 33 million cars worldwide could contain a defective airbag.[1] Even with the recall in place, history suggests that the majority of recalled cars will remain on the road in their defective state.[2]

The recall was ordered due to a defect that caused the airbags to shoot shrapnel into the driver and passenger area of the car when deployed. This shrapnel produced injuries to the car’s occupants so severe that police investigating the incidents reported that the victims appeared to have been shot or stabbed. Though these injuries most commonly occurred as a result of an accident, there has been at least one instance of the airbag suddenly deploying and shooting out shrapnel without impact.[3]

The defective airbags have been linked to only fifteen incidents of death or injury in the United States, a very small number considering the millions of cars manufactured with the airbags over the past fifteen years.[4] However, this is not a reason to dismiss the significance of the recall or the safety concerns at issue.

Recalls are not ordered lightly. If automakers recalled their vehicles for every instance of defect or concern, they would never be able to stop. Instead, they study reports and work figures to determine when a recall is necessary. This means that the risk to the consumer’s health must be great and the probability that the risk will occur must be high for a recall to be issued.[5]

Some experts think that the accident or injury that could be caused by Takata’s airbags will cause more people to comply with the recall, but past numbers tell a less promising story. In the United States, only one of every seven recalled cars has ever been repaired.[6] The result is that millions of cars with some kind of hazardous defect are still on the road, placing an untold number of people at risk.

Of course, complying with a recall may still not be enough to protect the public. After all, the replacement parts may themselves be defective. Also, due to the massive number of cars subject to recall, it could take years for Takata to have enough replacement airbags to fix the cars, meaning millions could remain unfixed even if their owners attempt to remedy the issue. Another factor is the cost of repairs; one expert has speculated that, in some cases, repairing the airbag could be more expensive for the company than simply buying the car back from its owner.[7]

In an ideal world, we would not need recalls because all cars would be safe.  In the meantime, the best way to ensure safety is for the public to comply with the recalls that are ordered.

About The Author: Jamie Kessel is a personal injury attorney practicing with the law firm of Allen & Allen. He has been named one of the 2015 Legal Elite by Virginia Business Magazine. His practice is focused in the areas of car accidents, product liability, premises liability, and distracted driving accidents.