The nation’s top automotive safety official issued an apology late yesterday regarding the issuance of incorrect information about the number of vehicles equipped with faulty Takata airbags.
David Friedman, deputy administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, offered up the apology in a statement after the agency shorted the total number of vehicles with the airbags by 3.1 million vehicles.
NHTSA also forgot to include two automakers – Ford and Subaru – in the tally, used incorrect figures for others, including counting vehicles from General Motors that didn’t actually use the airbags.
On top of those problems, the website designed to allow vehicle owners to check if their vehicle is being recalled crashed and was down for several hours after the warning went out on Monday.
“We greatly regret that the information provided in our initial safety advisory was inaccurate and that we have experienced significant problems with our website,” Friedman said in the statement.
“We have developed an effective workaround to the website problem that gets people the safety information they need now while we work to fix our system. Protecting the American public is our top priority and we will leave no stone unturned in this investigation.”
The cars have been recalled in 2013 and 2014 due to several instances where the airbags exploded causing four deaths and several injuries. The vehicles involved in the recall date back to the 2000 model year.
(NHTSA increases Takata airbag warning to cover 7.8 million vehicles. For more, Click Here.)
Friedman added the agency is engaged in an investigation and has “identified the problem” with Takata’s airbags. He noted the agency ensuring the cars are recalled in parts of the country “where there is a demonstrated risk.” The agency has recently focused its Takata efforts on high-humidity regions, including U.S. states along the Gulf of Mexico.
That restricted geographic-based effort has drawn the ire of watchdog groups and politicians alike. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center of Auto Safety, has been criticizing the move since July.
(Click Here for the initial report about the Takata recall.)
Additionally, the New York Times reported that Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey plan to send a letter today chiding NHTSA for how it is handling of the recalls, particularly the regional approach, which was suggested by the automakers.
NHTSA officials confirmed they received the letter today and, “will respond directly to the Senator’s regarding their concerns. Public safety is NHTSA’s top priority and the agency is working to establish a new normal for automakers.” That’s why NHTSA launched an aggressive investigation into Takata airbags and urged all of the affected automakers to immediately conduct recalls in areas with the highest known risk despite the uncertainties in this case.”
(To see what allowed GM to beat earnings expectations, Click Here.)
In addition to the anticipated scolding from the Senators, federal prosecutors are also investigating Takata, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Many have wondered if the lack of a permanent administrator to lead the agency, Friedman is the deputy administrator joining NHTSA last year, has compromised the agency’s effectiveness. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said recently that naming a full-time administrator should occur shortly. Neither he nor Friedman would say if Friedman is the choice to take reins permanently.