The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a full committee hearing entitled “Update on the Recalls of Defective Takata Air Bags and NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Efforts” on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, at 10:00 a.m.
The hearing will examine the role of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the Takata defective airbag recall investigation, Takata’s remediation efforts, how car manufacturers are addressing defective Takata airbags, and ongoing oversight by the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. NHTSA expanded the Takata airbag recalls to nearly 34 million vehicles and 11 automobile manufacturers on May 19, 2015.
· The Honorable Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D., Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
· The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel III, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation
· Mr. Kevin Kennedy, Executive Vice President of North America, TK Holdings, Inc. (Takata)
· Mr. Scott Kunselman, Senior Vice President, Vehicle Safety and Regulatory Compliance, FCA US LLC (Fiat Chrysler, formerly known as Chrysler Group LLC)
· Mr. Rick Schostek, Executive Vice President, Honda North America
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Full Committee hearing
This hearing will take place in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on this page.
For reporters interested in reserving a seat, please contact the press gallery:
• Periodical Press Gallery – 202-224-0265
• Radio/Television Gallery – 202-224-6421
• Press Photographers Gallery – 202-224-6548
• Daily Press Gallery – 202-224-0241
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Chairman John Thune
"Welcome everyone. We have called this hearing for a very somber reason. Some defective air bags are hurting rather than helping people. We still haven’t figured out exactly why, and we need to figure out how to prevent these issues from occurring in the future.
"This is a pivotal time in vehicle safety. It is welcome news that cars are generally safer than they have ever been. Advances in vehicle technologies and safety innovations, as well as robust state safety initiatives, have reduced the number of deaths on the road. Still, tragically, more than 30,000 people die every year due to motor vehicle accidents.
"Air bags are one of the most important vehicle safety innovations. That’s why it is so alarming that tens of millions of cars have potentially defective air bags.
"Today we will be asking witnesses for an update on recall and remedy efforts for Takata air bag inflators, which have been allegedly linked to eight deaths and over 100 injuries.
"The large number of vehicles recalled covers 11 auto manufacturers, the complexity of the different types of inflators, the lack of an identified root cause to date, and the age of the vehicles affected have made remedying this problem exceedingly difficult.
"But these challenges do not excuse the responsibilities of auto manufacturers, suppliers, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from their shared obligation to ensure vehicles are safe.
"The first priority should be fixing the recalled vehicles as soon as possible.
"NHTSA has also taken an unprecedented role, inserting itself in overseeing this process.
"Takata and other alternative suppliers have ramped up production of replacement parts to increase supply, and the autos are seeking to contact affected vehicle owners and working with dealerships on swift repairs.
"Nevertheless, questions exist about whether the currently available replacements are truly safe. Takata is phasing out certain types of inflators, and testing is ongoing to determine the root cause, or causes, of the inflator defects. This testing will help to assess the scope of the recalls and safety of the replacement parts.
"These alarming recalls underscore the importance of clear and accurate information for consumers. NHTSA’s dedicated Takata recall website is an important step, but recall fatigue and confusion are growing. The large number of vehicles involved has resulted in delays for some consumer notice. And, the number of times the same vehicle may be subject to recall may further perplex consumers.
"And as we all know, completing a recall is not easy. With an all-time record last year of nearly 64 million automobiles subject to recall, I appreciate that NHTSA and the auto industry are looking for ways to improve the process.
"Identifying safety problems early is another key issue for both the industry and NHTSA. I look forward to hearing more about the Inspector General’s audit report, which raises serious concerns about the agency’s abilities in this area.
"The audit identifies many instances in which the agency repeatedly dropped the ball in handling issues related to General Motors’ ignition switch defect. Weaknesses in NHTSA’s ability to conduct accurate data analysis and provide necessary training and supervision call into question whether the agency can effectively identify and investigate potential safety problems and carry out its safety mission. These findings are especially disconcerting given the scale and complexity of the Takata defects.
"I am pleased to know that Administrator Rosekind has concurred with all 17 of the Inspector General’s recommendations and has committed to implement them.
"There have been far too many troubling recalls throughout the agency’s existence. That is why I have worked with Senator Nelson to pass our Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act. This legislation seeks to encourage employees to report safety concerns before they become larger problems and to prevent loss of life and serious injuries resulting from safety defects.
"Despite a long vacancy with a Senate confirmed leader, under Administrator Rosekind’s leadership, NHTSA has also been looking for ways to improve.
"There have been assessments of NHTSA and a plan for a path forward, but now is the time for accountability. The agency, automakers, their suppliers and dealers, and Congress must work together to reduce deaths and injuries on our nation’s roadways.
"This Committee will continue to conduct oversight of the Takata recalls and NHTSA’s vehicle safety efforts. I appreciate Takata’s general cooperation with the Committee’s requests to date. In fact, we just received another large production of documents from the company a few days ago. Some automakers are also producing documents to the Committee. And I’m sure we will have more questions for NHTSA.
"It is also important for consumers to check to see if their vehicle is subject to this or any recall. NHTSA’s has a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) lookup tool online at safercar.gov. If you determine your vehicle is subject to a recall, please schedule an appointment to get it fixed with your closest dealership as soon as possible.
"Now, I’m pleased to welcome Administrator Rosekind to his first appearance before the Committee since his confirmation as the NHTSA Administrator last December.
"I also want to welcome Inspector General Scovel back to the Committee and our auto witnesses for this, our second full committee hearing on this important issue.
"Thank you to all the witnesses, and I look forward to your testimony."
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing today.
Last November, I chaired the first hearing in Congress, in this committee, to explore the issue of defective Takata airbags. And the news was not good.
At that point, we had five deaths and dozens of injuries tied to defective Takata airbags. We also heard testimony from an Air Force Officer, Lieutenant Stephanie Erdman, who suffered severe facial injuries and almost lost one of her eyes when her airbag exploded after a minor accident in the Florida Panhandle.
Since then, the recalls have ramped up. But the tragedies have also continued.
In January, a man in Houston was killed by a Takata airbag that exploded in his vehicle after a minor accident.
In early April, a 22-year-old was involved in an accident near Lafayette, Louisiana. The wreck was serious. But, as you can see in the picture behind me, it appears that the airbag did not help her. Instead, the airbag sent shrapnel flying into her neck and severed an artery. She died after four days in a hospital.
And, just last Friday, we learned of an 8th death – occurring last year in Southern California – that has been conclusively tied to a defective Takata airbag.
Some of these victims’ families got recall notices after their loved ones were killed. In addition to the eight deaths, this committee has also learned of allegations of well over 100 serious injuries.
In my hand, I have a piece of shrapnel from a Takata airbag incident in Miami last July. In that incident, a piece of shrapnel hit Ms. Clarabel Nunez in the forehead after her airbag deployed in a minor fender-bender, causing a serious facial injury that you can see in the picture behind me. Just think what would have happened if this piece had hit her just inches below – in the neck or chest.
I could go on and on about incidents just in my home state of Florida alone, but the bottom line is this: We need to get these cars fixed pronto. And we also have to fix our broken recall process for vehicles.
In just a few minutes, we will hear from the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Dr. Mark Rosekind, who has been on the job for six months.
Let me say upfront that Dr. Rosekind has been a breath of fresh air at this agency and has taken numerous actions to speed up the Takata recall process. I appreciate that.
But NHTSA still faces deep challenges. It is underfunded. It also lacks the sticks necessary to make sure that automakers are forthcoming about defects.
Just look at GM. GM hid a defect for over a decade, and at least 114 people died as a result. For that, NHTSA could only fine GM a measly $35 million – that’s less than 0.001 percent of what GM makes in one quarter.
And NHTSA also appears to have serious internal and managerial issues.
These challenges were detailed in a Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General report released yesterday that revealed serious problems in NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, especially related to its handling of the GM crisis last year.
I am going to fight for additional funding and authority for NHTSA. But there also has to be accountability. The IG report found severe deficiencies in NHTSA’s ability to effectively collect and analyze safety data, as well as conduct investigations. The agency lacks proper protocols and procedures, and staff apparently are inadequately trained to do their job. Put bluntly, we need accountability. And I look forward to hearing how Dr. Rosekind intends to respond to this report and continue to modernize the agency.
Finally, I look forward to questioning representatives from Takata and the automakers present at today’s hearing.
Yesterday, my staff issued a report detailing its initial findings in a months-long investigation of Takata.
One thing is obvious. For years, Takata did not put safety first.
It appears that Takata knew, or should have known, as early as 2001 that there were serious safety and quality lapses in its airbag production process.
You think they would have stepped up their safety efforts at these plants after discovering these issues.
Instead, internal emails suggest they actually suspended global safety audits from 2009 to 2011 for cost-cutting reasons. And now the same company responsible for this disaster is the one making nearly all of the replacement airbags for most of the recalled vehicles. That doesn’t sit well with me, and I think Takata has some serious explaining to do today regarding the safety of its products.
Everyone involved—from NHTSA to automakers to their suppliers like Takata—all need to improve as fast as possible. Not only to get this recall completed but also to make sure that safety issues are spotted sooner, dangerous vehicles are identified and fixed faster, and consumers are kept safe. Americans shouldn’t die or be gravely injured because the agency and companies responsible for protecting them fell down on the job.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I note that our staff worked closely on this hearing and on the report on Takata.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.DAdministratorNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel IIIInspector GeneralU.S. Department of Transportation
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Kevin KennedyExecutive Vice President of North AmericaTK Holdings, Inc. (Takata)
Mr. Scott KunselmanSenior Vice President, Vehicle Safety and Regulatory ComplianceFCA US LLC (Fiat Chrysler, formerly known as Chrysler Group LLC)
Mr. Rick SchostekExecutive Vice PresidentHonda North America