Nelson Floor Remarks on Latest Takata Incidents

April 27, 2015

Mr. President, I rise today to provide an update on the status of defective airbags manufactured by Takata Corporation and efforts to get them out of our cars.
Last November, I chaired a Commerce Committee hearing on Takata’s rupturing airbags and the resulting recalls. The number of vehicles recalled due to defective Takata airbags will go down in the record books as one of the largest in American history.
At that hearing, we saw that – instead of preventing deaths and injuries – these airbags can explode and spray metal shrapnel at the driver or passenger.
Many of these incidents seem to be happening in vehicles exposed to persistent high heat and humidity.
So it is sadly no surprise that my home state of Florida has been the epicenter of these incidents.
Earlier this year, I came to the floor and reported that Takata had received unconfirmed reports of 64 injuries and five deaths allegedly linked to its exploding airbags.
At the time, these numbers from Takata were far greater than what had been reported in the press.
Takata recently provided to the Committee an update on reported incidents, and, unfortunately, it’s more bad news.
According to the most recent data as of the end of January, Takata had identified 40 more alleged incidents of rupturing airbags, including one death. This brings the total number of alleged injuries from 64 to 105 and the total number of alleged deaths to six.
Seventeen of the 40 newly reported incidents provided by Takata to the Committee occurred in my state of Florida.
This brings the total number of alleged incidents of exploding Takata airbags in Florida alone to 35, including one that caused a death.
The injuries suffered by Floridians have been very serious. The new incidents include allegations of facial fractures, blindness, a broken sternum, and even quadriplegia.
But, these new alleged incidents do not paint the full picture.
In fact, Reuters recently reported that another Takata airbag in Florida ruptured last month.
The victim – who was in a 2003 Honda Civic – had a one-and-a-half-inch piece of metal shrapnel lodged into his neck after his airbag exploded. 
Luckily, he was airlifted in time to the hospital, where doctors were able to remove the metal shrapnel. But he must now live with not only a physical scar on his neck but also the constant reminder that this horrific incident could and should have been prevented.
We need to get the cars that haven’t been fixed off the road, and they need to be fixed as soon as possible. 
I appreciate the efforts by Takata and the impacted automakers to ramp up production of replacement inflators. 
Honda has informed us that they are sending their recall notices out in both English and Spanish to more effectively reach impacted consumers.
And I am also pleased that Honda recently launched an ad campaign – in both English and Spanish – that reminds owners to have their recalled airbag inflators replaced.
But far more still needs to be done.
First and foremost, we need to get to the root cause of the problem and make sure we know why the defective airbag inflators are failing.
It may be the inflator, it may be the propellant inside, we don’t yet know – but we need to get to the bottom of it.
So, yes, we need more replacement inflators. But, more importantly, we need to make sure they’re actually safe instead of just producing more of the same, potentially defective inflators.
It is my understanding that Honda and perhaps others are taking steps to ensure the safety of the replacement inflators.  That work needs to happen as soon as possible, and be validated by an independent, third-party.
Furthermore, we need to make sure that we are able to prevent defects like this in the future.
And I am going to stay on Takata, the automakers, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to do that.
But for right now, Mr. President, I urge my constituents:  if a defect is identified, and you receive a recall notice, bring your car into your dealership for repair as soon as possible. 
I also want them to know that, even if they haven’t received a notice for the Takata recall, they should go to and plug in their car’s VIN number to check and see if it is subject to this or any other recall.  That is imperative. 
We are continuing to monitor this situation.  My staff is currently going through tens of thousands of pages of documents related to this defect, and I hope to be able to provide a further update on those efforts in the near future.
Now, on a more positive note, I’m pleased to report that the Senate is very close to approving S. 304, the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act. This bipartisan legislation, which Chairman Thune and I authored, would provide financial incentives for whistleblowers in the automotive sector to step forward if they see a manufacturer hiding or failing to address a dangerous defect.
I don’t need to remind my colleagues about the ignition switch defect cover-up at General Motors. They hid that defect for a decade, and at least 87 people died because of it according to recent press reports. Our bill will hopefully help prevent such cover-ups in the future.
S. 304 is a small but meaningful step to improve auto safety.  And I hope my colleagues here will quickly clear this common-sense legislation, and I urge the House to do so as well.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.