Airbag Recall Showdown: Safety vs. Statistics


Last updated: November 19, 2023

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is locking horns with ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive Systems over a potential recall of 52 million airbags.

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The NHTSA claims these airbags could explode in a crash, citing seven cases in the U.S., one in Canada, and one in Turkey. In two instances, drivers were killed, while others suffered injuries.

ARC, however, is pushing back, arguing a recall isn’t necessary. Steve Gold, ARC’s vice president of product integrity, stated, “ARC takes the performance of its products very seriously. Indeed, the safety of the motoring public is a cornerstone of our business.”

He insisted the ruptured inflators were “isolated incidents” and that a recall is “simply unprecedented in the history of NHTSA.”

The NHTSA began investigating the airbag inflators in 2015, following reports of inflators rupturing in a 2002 Chrysler Town & Country and a 2004 Kia Optima.

In May 2023, General Motors recalled 1 million GM vehicles with the airbags. The inflators under investigation were made between 2000 and 2018.

According to NHTSA, the risk of one of these inflators rupturing is one in every 370,000 airbag deployments. However, the only way to know if an airbag has a defect is for it to actually rupture.

Donna Glassbrenner, a statistician with NHTSA, said, “The only way to know if a particular inflator in this population will rupture is for it to undergo a deployment.”

The airbags under investigation were installed in vehicles made by BMW, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

The NHTSA previously requested Takata recall 67 million airbags following explosions in only six of them. However, ARC rejects any comparisons to the 2014 Takata recall, stating it has industry-standard quality protocols in place.

In a statement, GM said it “believes the evidence and data presented by NHTSA at this time does not provide a basis for any recall beyond the approximately 1 million ARC inflators GM has already recalled out of an abundance of caution.”

This ongoing debate between safety regulators and business manufacturers highlights the tension between statistical risk and the real-world impact of product failures.

As the discussion continues, the strength sports community will be watching closely, knowing that the outcome could have far-reaching implications for safety standards in the automotive industry.

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