WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) - A 17-year-old driver of a recalled 2002 Honda Civic was killed last month after a Takata Corp 7312.T air bag ruptured during a rear-end crash, Honda Motor Co (7267.T) and U.S. regulators said on Wednesday, the 10th U.S. death linked to a defect that has prompted recalls of tens of millions of vehicles worldwide.
The latest death took place on March 31 in Fort Bend County, Texas. Honda said the owner had been mailed multiple recall notices about the five-year-old recall effort, but repairs were never made.
The victim, a high school senior from Richmond, Texas, ran into the back of a Honda CR-V that was waiting for traffic to clear to make a left turn, said Fort Bend County Sheriff's Deputy Danny Beckwith. The driver was not excessively speeding and was wearing her seat belt, he said, saying the crash resulted in moderate damage to her car.
"Everybody should have walked away from this," Beckwith said in an interview. He said shrapnel punctured the air bag and sliced the young woman's neck and carotid artery. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Honda spokesman Jeffrey Smith said the automaker has more than doubled the size of its customer relations team working on this issue.
"This is a very motivated, dedicated and engaged group, working seven days a week to help customers get their vehicles repaired," Smith said.
He said Honda has sent more than 9.9 million mailers, 11.9 million postcards, 4.5 million emails, 12.8 million direct and automated phone calls and used targeted advertising, social media and other efforts.
Overall, 10 people have died in the United States in accidents linked to exploding Takata air bags. Nine of those U.S. deaths have occurred in Honda vehicles, Honda said. Ford Motor Co (F.N) has reported a death from a Takata air bag rupture in one of its vehicles in the United States.
A pregnant woman was killed in Malaysia in July 2014 after the rupture of a Takata air bag in a 2003 Honda City.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said in a statement the latest death "shows that the current recall efforts are just not getting the job done. Takata and the automakers have to step up their efforts to locate, notify and fix every impacted car as soon as possible - before anyone else dies."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement it "has demanded that manufacturers work to a 100 percent completion rate, and take all efforts necessary to reach that goal."
The agency said it "is renewing its call to all auto manufacturers involved in the Takata air bag recall to intensify and expand their outreach to affected vehicle owners."
To date, 14 automakers have recalled about 24 million vehicles involving about 28 million Takata air bag inflators, , which can explode with excessive force and spray metal shrapnel into vehicle passenger compartments. They have been linked to more than 100 U.S. injuries.
In late December, NHTSA named John Buretta, a former official in the Justice Department's criminal division, to serve as independent monitor overseeing the Takata recalls.
Last month, NHTSA said automakers have replaced more than 7.5 million defective Takata inflators, or about a third of those recalled through December. Honda has replaced about 5.4 million inflators, or 54 percent of vehicles it had recalled through December, the highest completion rate of any automaker.
Honda said it has enough replacement inflators to complete repairs under the open recall of the 2002 Civic, "and we continue to encourage all owners of affected vehicles to seek repair immediately."
Honda said it does not have replacements for a driver air bag inflator recall announced in February, but it expects to begin receiving replacement inflators for that recall within a few days.
Reporting by David Shepardson, editing by G Crosse and David Gregorio