Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. CEO Shigehisa Takada speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Monday, June 26, 2017. Takata Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of defective air bag inflators linked to the deaths of at least 16 people. (Yu Nakajima/Kyodo News via AP)

Air bag inflator ruptures, driver killed in Florida crash

DETROIT — A Florida woman has died in a crash near Tampa from injuries that may have been caused by an exploding Takata air bag inflator.

The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the July 19 death in Holiday, which could be the 19th worldwide and 13th in the U.S. blamed on the Japanese company’s faulty parts. Authorities in Florida have not yet released the cause of death, Honda said in a statement issued Thursday.

Takata inflators can explode with too much force and blow apart a metal canister, spewing shrapnel. The defective inflators have touched off the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, involving 42 million vehicles and 69 million inflators. More than 100 million have been recalled worldwide. All the deaths but one have occurred in Hondas. Five happened in Malaysia and one in Australia.

Authorities identified the woman as Nichol Lynn Barker, 34, of Holiday, who was driving a 2002 Honda Accord when a 19-year-old man turned left in front of her in a 1999 Pontiac Firebird. The Accord struck the passenger side of the Firebird, causing the driver’s air bag to inflate. Three other people in her car, including a 4-year-old girl, suffered only minor injuries according to a Highway Patrol press release. Sgt. Steve Gaskins confirmed Thursday that Barker’s car was equipped with the original Takata air bag. He said Barker died of blunt force trauma.

Barker’s husband did not respond to an attempt to contact him through social media. Her Facebook page lists her as the mother of three young children.

The Accord, like many of the Hondas in which people have died, had been recalled by the automaker, but repairs had not been made. Honda said in a statement that it mailed 21 recall notices to the owners of the Accord, including 10 to the current registered owner. The company also tried “numerous times” to reach the owners by email and telephone.

Honda and investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration inspected the Accord on Thursday and determined that the driver’s inflator ruptured, according to Honda.

The company offered sympathy to the victim’s family, and it urged owners of recalled vehicles to get them repaired as soon as possible. Older vehicles, especially those from the 2001 to 2003 model years, pose a greater danger of injuring or killing people. The company says it has enough replacement inflators available to repair all cars and will do so at no cost to owners.

Takata uses the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate to inflate air bags in a crash. But the chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to high heat and humidity. That can make it burn too fast and blow the metal canister apart.

There are about 98 million Takata inflators still on the road in the U.S., according to figures provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Takata supplied about 114 million inflators in the U.S., and only about 16 million of them have been replaced. A total of 46 million have been recalled in 34 million vehicles thus far, with more recalls to be phased in through 2020.

Some Takata inflators may not be recalled because they contain a water-absorbing chemical and are believed to be safer than inflators without it. Takata has until the end of 2019 to prove to NHTSA that those inflators are safe, or they have to be recalled too. Earlier this month, 2.7 million more vehicles were recalled with one type of inflators that have the water absorbing chemical called a dessicant because they showed signs of deterioration in lab tests.

Those vehicles are from Ford, Nissan and Mazda. Ford and Mazda are fighting the recall, contending that their inflators have not shown any signs of trouble and none has ruptured.

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