Teenage Driver Dies in Texas After Takata Airbag Ruptures in Crash

A Texas teenager was killed last week when the Takata airbag in her Honda Civic ruptured in a crash, a local police official said Wednesday, bringing the number of deaths linked to the supplier’s defective airbags to 11.

Honda said that the vehicle had been recalled multiple times since 2011, but its airbag was never repaired. The victim’s family, which has owned the car for about five years, said it received no recall notices, local investigators said.

The victim, Huma Hanif, 17, was driving on a state highway outside Houston around 4:30 p.m. on March 31 when she ran into the car in front of her, according to Bob Haenel, an officer at the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office.

Ms. Hanif’s airbag ruptured, sending a metal fragment into the side of her neck, said Danny Beckworth, a lead investigator in the case. She died at the scene, about a seven-minute drive away from George Ranch High School, where she was a student.

“She wasn’t speeding. The car had only moderate damage,” Mr. Beckworth said. “It’s a crash that we work with every day that everybody walks away from.”

Takata’s defective airbags have led to a large and complex safety recall. Fourteen automakers have recalled 28 million airbag inflaters, the metal casing that contains the propellant, in about 24 million vehicles. But millions more vehicles with Takata-made airbag inflaters have not yet been recalled.
The propellant, called ammonium nitrate, can become unstable over time or when it is exposed to moisture. The safety agency has barred Takata from using ammonium nitrate for new orders, but has given it until the end of 2018 to prove that the compound is safe in inflaters that remain on the road.
In a statement, Honda confirmed a death in Texas by a rupturing Takata inflater, but gave no details. It said its “thoughts and deepest sympathies” were with the driver’s family.

Takata said in a statement that it was “deeply sorry for all fatalities and injuries that have occurred in any case where a Takata airbag inflater has failed to deploy as intended.”

Honda said that Ms. Hanif’s 2002 Civic was a used vehicle and had been recalled multiple times since 2011. It said notices were sent out to its registered owners, including to the current owner, a member of Ms. Hanif’s family.

This slow-motion footage, courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, shows a test of a Takata airbag. During the test, the airbag inflater ruptures, sending metal fragments flying.  Publish Date October 22, 2015. Photo by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The 2002 Civic was first recalled by Honda in April 2011, and at least three times since then, to fix both the driver’s and passenger’s side airbags, according to the federal safety agency’s database.
Still, the family has told investigators that it did not receive any recall notices, Mr. Beckworth said. He said police were looking into the discrepancy.

It was unclear whether the car had already been recalled when the Hanif family acquired the car. The United States does not require the repair of used vehicles that have been recalled for safety issues before they are sold.

That will change in June, when a federal law takes effect prohibiting rental car companies from renting recalled vehicles that have not been repaired. That law does not apply to used-car dealers, though other statutes on unfair and deceptive practices afford buyers of used cars some protections.
Honda inspected Ms. Hanif’s vehicle earlier Wednesday together with representatives of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the sheriff’s department and Takata.

It said it had shared information on the vehicle’s history with the safety agency and would cooperate with continued investigations into the crash.

As the recalls of Takata airbags have mushroomed and deaths have mounted in recent years, the speed of the repairs has become an increasing source of concern among lawmakers and regulators. Ten of the 11 deaths have been in the United States.

Honda on Wednesday continued to urge owners of recalled cars to take their vehicles for repairs.
But regulators said that a more aggressive outreach to owners was needed. “The conventional approach to recall notification alone is inadequate,” the federal auto safety agency said in a statement. It would renew its call to the automakers involved “to intensify and expand their outreach to affected vehicle owners.”

Many replacement parts, though, remain unavailable, Honda said. Although a replacement was available for Ms. Hanif’s car, Honda said, they are still not available for the newest round of recalls that the automaker announced in February. Auto safety officials have urged car owners to check the recall status of their cars.

Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, said in a statement that the death showed that current recall efforts were falling short.

“Takata and the automakers have to step up their efforts to locate, notify and fix every impacted car as soon as possible — before anyone else dies,” he said.

A version of this article appears in print on April 7, 2016, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: Teenage Driver Dies in Texas After Takata Airbag Ruptures.


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