At this point, it has become clear to many Americans that the regulation of automobile safety in the United States is abysmal. Specifically, injurious and fatal car accidents related to manufacturing and design defects continue to occur and seem to be getting worse.
Agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have a very difficult time even investigating allegations of vehicle defects, in part, because automakers try to cover up known problems rather than fixing them. If and when a recall is finally issued (after a high number of injuries and fatalities), there are few legal remedies to ensure that all car owners are notified and that defective vehicles get fixed. A recent and tragic case from here in California is an example.
In the wake of the Takata air bag recall, which has now grown to include 10 car companies in the U.S. and 34 million vehicles, it has been difficult to determine just how many injuries and deaths could be attributed to the dangerous air bags. Earlier this month, it was announced that an eighth death has been linked to the faulty air bags. The victim was a 26-year-old woman who was killed in a crash last September.
What makes this death especially unsettling is the fact that the victim was driving a rental car - a 2001 Honda Civic. The San Diego-based rental car company had been informed of a recall in 2013 but never bothered to have it fixed. Sadly, the company's actions were perfectly legal. Rental companies and used car dealers are not required to have vehicles repaired or even to inform customers that the vehicles were included in a recall.
The Takata air bag recall is the largest auto safety recall in U.S. history. Just before the Takata scandal, General Motors endured public and congressional scrutiny about its cover-up of defective ignition switches. A few years before that, Toyota faced significant fines and litigation over its delayed action in the "sudden unintended acceleration" scandal. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Until or unless we demand more accountability from automakers, these recall scandals will continue and will only get worse.