Company refuses to recall 67 million airbag inflators over safety fears

A U.S. company that manufactures the device that inflates vehicle airbags during a crash is refusing to recall 67 million of the inflators the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says may “create an unreasonable risk of death and injury” for drivers and passengers.

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ARC Automotive Inc. disputes the “tentative” findings by government regulators that the inflators are dangerous, according to company officials.

NHTSA said in a letter sent to ARC and posted on the agency’s website that it believes at least 2 people were killed in the U.S. and Canada, with 7 more injured, after the ARC inflators ruptured, The Associated Press reported.

“NHTSA is issuing this recall request letter to notify you that the Agency has tentatively concluded that a defect related to motor vehicle safety exists in the frontal driver and passenger air bag inflators under investigation [...] Over pressurization of the inflator has the potential to cause it to rupture resulting in metal fragments being forcefully propelled into the passenger compartment,” the letter read.

In the letter, the agency references seven instances in the U.S. where it says it believes the inflator caused injuries. It also detailed one instance in Canada and one in Turkey.

According to the NHTSA, a driver in Michigan and one in Canada died from injuries sustained when an inflator ruptured. The other incidents resulted in facial injuries, the NHTSA said in the letter.

“Based on currently available information, NHTSA has tentatively concluded that a defect related to motor vehicle safety exists in the subject frontal driver and 4 passenger air bag inflators and demands that ARC issue a Part 573 Recall Report addressing that safety defect,” the agency went on to demand of ARC. “The subject inflators pose an unreasonable risk of death or injury that may result from an item of motor vehicle equipment that, when not defective, is designed to save lives.

ARC, which is located in Knoxville, Tennessee, released a statement on Friday night to the AP saying: “We disagree with NHTSA’s new sweeping request when extensive field testing has found no inherent defect.”

ARC also pointed to a part of the letter that said that testing done in 2018 found that “no anomalies were detected in any of the deployments. None of the tested inflators ruptured.”

The company did confirm that General Motors is recalling nearly 1 million vehicles fitted with the ARC inflators. The vehicles recalled were the 2014-2017 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia SUVs. Owners will be notified by letters due to be sent out in late June, according to the NHTSA.

If ARC agrees to the recall, it would cover a quarter of the 284 million vehicles that are now on U.S. roads since the inflators are either in the driver, the passenger or both airbags.

If ARC continues to refuse the recall, the NHTSA will schedule a public hearing, then it could take the company to court to force a recall.

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