Earlier this month, we gave readers a brief history of the air bag, including when it was invented and when laws were changed to include air bags as standard equipment. Since the late 1990s, automakers have been required to install air bagsin all new vehicles to be driven in the United States.
Since then, Japanese parts manufacturer Takata has emerged as an industry leader in the development and manufacturing of air bags. The company sells its products to major car companies around the world. As we learned in the past year, however, Takata air bags can malfunction in deadly ways. The revelation has led to the recall of about 20 million vehicles in the U.S. alone.
The recall is so large and involves so many companies that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced its plans to head the effort. This is seemingly the first time that the NHTSA has invoked its authority to unilaterally take over coordination of a recall. The agency's administrator expressed concern that individual automakers may attempt a "patch-work solution that NHTSA believes may not adequately address the safety risks presented by the defective Takata inflators within a reasonable time."
Because it is heading the recall, the NHTSA will be able to dictate the pace (if things are moving too slow), and will have control over where replacement parts are sent and when.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has long been criticized for taking too long to enact meaningful reforms and for its allegedly ineffective oversight of the auto industry. But these problems are largely the result of the agency's limited authority and funding. Hopefully, the Takata air bag recall will usher in a new era where better regulation and enforcement can prevent defect-related auto accidents.