The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered Takata Corp., the Japanese supplier of the potentially fatal defective airbags that has led to a string of recall orders for vehicles, to preserve all the airbag inflators retrieved from the recall orders as evidence for engineering analysis and possible litigation.
The NHTSA's order to Takata is the first instance that the agency has made a company keep evidence for a possible private ligation, said NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge.
The defective airbag inflators, which are the parts that activate the airbags in the case of a crash, have been connected to a minimum of six fatalities and dozens of injuries, along with several filed lawsuits. The NHTSA reported that the inflators lead to exploding airbags due to excessive force, resulting in metal fragments being sent flying to the vehicle's passengers.
Since 2008, almost 25 million vehicles from all over the world have been recalled due to Takata airbags.
Last week Friday, the NHTSA placed a fine against Takata of $14,000 per day that the company fails to fully cooperate with the probe of the government.
In addition, the order on Takata, which was sent out by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, prevents the Japanese company from damaging or destroying the defective airbag inflators in non-testing cases. Takata has also been ordered to keep 10 percent of all the airbag inflators recovered from the recall orders, which will be available to be tested by private plaintiffs.
"This department is focused on protecting the American public from these defective air bags and at getting to the bottom of how they came to be included in millions of vehicles on U.S. roads," Foxx said.
With the order, the NHTSA ensures that the airbag inflators will be available for testing by all involved parties including the agency itself, Takata, a group of car makers and private litigants.
Bob Rendine, a spokesman for Takata, confirmed that the Japanese supplier will be continuing to work closely with the NHTSA.
"We believe the outcome (Foxx's order) is in the best interest of all parties, and consistent with our commitment to the safety of the driving public," Rendine said, adding that finding out the root cause of the issues enveloping the company's airbag inflators has always been and has remained the company's top priority.
Foxx also said that the NHTSA will be upgrading its investigation into Takata into an engineering analysis, which is a formal step in the process of defect investigation by the agency.