NHTSA could tap unexercised authority to speed Takata recalls

Thu Mar 5, 2015 6:19pm EST
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By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. auto safety regulators are considering unprecedented steps to speed up the replacement of potentially deadly Takata Corp (7312.T: Quote) air bags in millions of cars that remain on American roads despite massive recalls initiated by automakers.

In a letter dated March 3, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind told Senator Bill Nelson that regulators had the authority to increase supply of replacement parts by requiring more manufacturers to produce them.

If the NHTSA decides to exercise this right under the National Traffic and Motor Safety Act it would mark the first time the agency has done so since it was granted such authority in 2000.

Rosekind, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates major accidents, took the helm of NHTSA in December as the agency weathered criticism for not responding more quickly to the Takata defects and another deadly problem involving faulty General Motors Co ignition switches.

NHTSA estimates that more than 17 million vehicles were manufactured with Takata air bag inflators that can explode and fire metal shards into the passenger compartments. The devices have been linked to at least six deaths and dozens of injuries. Regulators say the air bags have been replaced in fewer than 2 million vehicles, or under 12 percent of those subject to recall.

"With such a large number of affected vehicles, production of replacement air bags must be increased but without compromising safety," Rosekind told Florida Democrat Nelson in the letter, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters.

“We will consider all options available to us, including whether to invoke … the Safety Act.”

A NHTSA official declined to say when the agency might reach a decision.   Continued...

A visitor walks past displays of Takata Corp at a showroom for vehicles in Tokyo November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai