Originally published on November 11, 2014, at NationofChange.org
As federal agencies launch investigations into Takata Corporation’s exploding airbag malfunction, two former employees are accusing Takata executives of possessing prior knowledge of the defective airbags and covering up the evidence back in 2004. The faulty airbags have been responsible for at least four deaths and 139 injuries. Although Takata executives blame degrading propellants in humid regions for these fatalities, Takata’s lax quality control standards and corporate greed also play major factors.
After an airbag exploded in Alabama in May 2004 firing metal shards into the ’02 Honda Accord’s driver, Takata conducted a series of secret tests to determine the cause of the explosion. Under the supervision of Al Bernat, then Takata’s vice president for engineering, 50 airbags were discreetly tested after work hours and on weekends and holidays during the summer of 2004 at Takata’s American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Although lab technicians found two cracked steel inflators during three months of clandestine testing, Bernat disregarded their results and ordered the technicians to stop the tests, destroy all of their data, and dispose of the evidence in the trash.
Takata reported to Honda that they were unable to find a cause for the exploding airbag. Honda accepted Takata’s assertion that the explosion was an anomaly and settled a claim with the injured driver. Honda also filed an early warning report with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to regulatory findings, Takata claims they did not perform diagnostic tests on the defective airbags until 2008.