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*Pic: Airbag deployed ... Paul Frankenstein, Flickr

ABC: Driver likely killed by defective Takata airbag in Sydney crash, police say A man who died in a Sydney car crash last week was likely killed because of a defective airbag, police say. Police are linking the Takata airbag to the death of a 58-year-old man, who was driving a Honda CRV when it collided with a Toyota Celica in Cabramatta last Thursday …

ABC: Takata airbag recall process leaves drivers with ‘ticking time-bombs’, Choice says

First published June 27

When a driver or passenger gets into a motor vehicle fitted with a defective Takata airbag he or she faces a serious risk of being horrifically injured - even death - if an airbag deploys.

It does not take a crash to deploy one of these faulty airbags; they have been known to spontaneously self deploy.

In the blink of an eye, that same eye may be pulp, with a metal shard penetrating to the brain, leaving the victim fighting for life, if they are not already dead.

The eye and throat are the most vulnerable and deadly areas of human anatomy from a high speed spray of metal shrapnel emitted by a defective airbag. It is the known cause of deaths and serious injury overseas, the latter effect recently sadly confirmed by NT police in Australia.

Airbags are normally considered life saving angels but these defective airbags become devils of life-changing human carnage with no discrimination.

They multiply your chance of serious trauma in any form of impact incident and even when driving normally … or stationary. That chance increases the older an airbag becomes.

These defective airbags have two known problems: the explosive propellant becomes unstable and the pressed steel containment cup fragments.

I trained with explosives; holding a WA licence some decades ago. Training included the use of ammonium nitrate as an explosive. This is the explosive used in the airbags.

There is a golden rule when dealing with explosives and it forms a default mandatory code. It is deadly if not followed. The golden rule is: If it is not known to be safe then it is not safe.

Explosive instability of Takata airbags is caused by what is known as chemical phase change in the ammonium nitrate propellant. This is caused by humidity, heat and age. It is one the most unpredictable explosives for long-term stability.

Its greatest asset is that it is cheap’ about ten times less than other suitable propellants which are in more limited supply. Ammonium nitrate is the most widely used explosive material particularly in mining as a compound called ANFO.

Takata went into airbag manufacture as a late entrant in 1998 and in 2001 announced a change from tried and tested “propellants” as the industry terms these explosives and started to use ammonium nitrate as the “propellant”. They were advised by established airbag manufacturers not to use it.

There are many examples of uninitiated ammonium nitrate self explosions. The most infamous (used as an example in my explosives training) is the USA “Texas city 1947” explosion killing 512 people. Just enter Texas City 1947 in search on the Internet browser and the story is there in graphic detail.

Takata have had two serious incidents of ammonium nitrate instability, in waste storage and a transport incident with one fatality. All associated with their Mexican factory where these substandard airbags were manufactured.

Under explosive protocol when a phase change takes place within the propellant, airbags are no longer lifesaving devices but UED’s “unstable explosive devices”.

Under the golden rule of handling explosives when an explosive is even suspected of being unstable then immediate steps should taken for correct disposal, according to set down protocols.

These airbag inflators are sealed devices - therefore if deemed faulty cannot be repaired and must be disposed of by an approved protocol.

Unstable airbag inflator’s under explosive protocol fall into the same classes of device as the device used in the recent horrific Manchester bombing or the other devices that are classed with that infamous acronym IED.

An airbag has a little under the same explosive energy as a military hand grenade (about 160 grams against about 180 grams) and with a defective containment cup forms a crude fragmentation shell around the propellant. Ammonium nitrate was used as a compound with other explosives in hand grenades of UK origin until about 1997.

Takata used a process to make the ammonium nitrate suitable as a propellant for airbags that is designed to ensure a controlled VOD (velocity of detonation). When chemical phase change takes place this designed VOD can be lost and can VOD increase in speed. Also ammonium nitrate is highly hygroscopic and any moisture absorbed on detonation becomes super heated steam which further destroys the original designed VOD characteristics.

This extra force is then capable of tearing apart the containment cup. The purposes of the cup is to safely direct the gases from the explosion to inflate the bag in about one twentieth of a second.

The manufacture of the containment cup evidently had a very long history of QC problems and many cups are suspected of being substandard in mechanical integrity. Hence, it seems that some can fail whether the propellant is safe or unstable. Further, there is now doubt, from some sources, that the original cup design had sufficient mechanical integrity for purpose.

There are tens of millions of these potentially deadly devices in dash boards and steering wheels of vehicles across the world. Now side airbags are being investigated by authorities in the USA.

Investigations seem to have revealed that Takata also had a very poor quality production management system that is making it difficult to identify suspect batches of airbags after production.

Australia motor vehicles are simply part of that explosive physical motoring world.

It is now realised in the USA, years of past road trauma coronal findings may be incorrect in the light of more recent information and are now being revised, where possible, for any evidence of airbag injury.

Australia’s political leaders have seemed to ignore this information when dealing with the Takata are bag crisis.

I believe both Federal and State laws and standard protocols governing explosive safety and classification have been (perhaps illegally) ignored by our most senior politicians who must have had to sanction Australia’s policy in dealing with this extremely dangerous crisis.

Why?

I can only conclude protection of the Motor Companies finances is more important than protection of the people of Australia?

Whilst we have a recall affecting some now 650,000+ vehicles, it is a voluntary recall run by the motor industries with some assistance of the ACCC acting more in a overseer role.

It is estimated that around 6000+ airbags are faulty in Australia based on Takata statistics from testing recalled airbags.

Safety recalls are normally run by the Vehicle Safety Recalls section of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional development on behalf of the ACCC on a mandatory basis.

The recall letters by the manufacturers seem to be very innocuous especially the first ones around Sept/Oct 2015. They leave it up to you whether to use the vehicle or not. In my letter there was the statement “These metal fragments may injure the vehicle occupants”. It is only in second batch of recalls that ACCC web site has a statement which acknowledges that these devices can cause injury and death.

By checking the ACCC listings one friend had found that her cars airbag was recalled in the latest batch. After checking with the dealer it can only be concluded that the notification letter had been miss directed. So it pays to check if you have not recieved a letter.

Why the delay with an official government statement? These devices have had serious questions on their safety going back at least 2004 and further.

Well, if you closely examine Australia’s powerful consumer act which the ACCC enforces. By altering the standard protocol for safety recalls it would seem to give the Motor Companies greater protection from the consumer act.

Whilst a new airbag is only tens of dollars plus fitting, which on some cars can be a lengthy process which is very costly when multiplied by the tens of millions world wide.

It is the long delay caused by a shortage of replacement bags that is the financial nightmare for the Motor Companies under Australian consumer law.

Under the consumer act if a product cannot be fixed within a reasonable period of time then a consumer is entitled and enforceable by a court to considerable compensation including under some circumstances a new vehicle or refund including some expenses incurred.

However, for those people who derive income from their vehicle it is also may be possible to claim loss of income.

If a standard mandatory recall was in force then there would be a statement “why” in the mandatory notice. For people affected it would not be unreasonable if they ceased using their vehicle or drove an affected company vehicle on safety grounds. Loss of income could be claimed on a very large scale involving large amounts of money.

A government mandatory safety recall notice would effectively give a rubber stamp for the safety issue if such a claim had to be made in court.

By allowing the recall to be voluntary and keeping very low key agenda by the Motor Companies, any claims under the consumer act to a court the individual plaintiff must prove their airbags are faulty.

A case of divide and rule and it is not a technically easy to prove your airbags are faulty.

Germany has trained and licensed special mechanics to deal with this explosive airbag danger.

As the standard protocol for safety recalls lies with Recall Unit of the Department of Infrastructure. Ministerial approval must be used to exempt the airbags from normal safety recall protocol. This would indicate that the declaration for a voluntary recall was made with full political knowledge.

We have changed governments and PMs so often lately it is hard to remember who, what and when. However, the current Takata airbag policy must date toward the end of the Abbott government in 2015.

It hard to conceive that this policy was not intended as protection strategy for the Motor Companies. It meant no changes to legislation and therefore debate in parliament and possible defeat by the political process.

Effectively the strategy deprived Australians of a more straightforward way to enforce their rights under consumer act.

It also attracted minimum attention.

It is the mushroom condition without even being fed the “fertiliser”.

It does however seem to transgress State Explosive Law by allowing vehicles with known suspect explosive airbags to be used.

In writing this article I have sought the reactions to airbag saga with a number of friends and was staggered by the indifference, ignorance and even hostility to the fact that these airbags can be deadly. I also include myself in the indifference category.

Perhaps because of other diversionary interests, I never went further than read the very innocuous recall notice from my Motor Company telling there would be at least a year’s wait before an airbag would be available. Occasionally I would call my local dealer to check when if a new airbag had arrived.

I have also to admit that a close friend made some stark comments about this bomb in the dash board of my car on many occasions.

It all points to the government and motor industry gambling on an indifferent motoring population and perhaps an “irrational exuberance” of affection by Australian’s for their motor vehicles.

My own vehicle Takata airbag recall was in the first major Australian batch announced by the ACCC in Sept 2015. My replacement airbag was fitted in March 2017. I made the wait with a complacent attitude, I cover so few kilometres a year (I must stress, low annual kilometres is statistically no protection against an incident). I should have known better.

My first call to my senses and then ignored was an article in the November 2016 Silicon Chip magazine with a feature article on airbag technology, past present and future. To my surprise I found out they used explosives to inflate the bag. Technology had move on in the decades since I last read about airbag technology!

I simply did not bother to research further, seems I was in the majority of Australians.

All this changed with the NT incident, around April 29 this yearm where a low impact collision caused critical head injury by shrapnel penetrating the skull into the brain. Confirmed officially by the NT police as directly caused by a defective airbag deploying.

This event was concurrent with the latest posting of affected vehicles on the ACCC website and a number of close friends receiving a recall notices, some for very late model vehicles.

These two events resulted in my research into the Takata airbag saga.

Also vehicles listed on the latest ACCC website listing are vehicles manufactured before my vehicle which was in the Sept 2015 recall batch.

The NT incident has formally changed the whole legal game in Australia concerning airbags. The NT police have confirmed a serious injury in Australia by substandard airbag.

A check was made with our vehicle insurance system in Tasmania.

In Tasmania as part of vehicle registration the state governments MAIB provides “no fault” injury insurance. However vehicle owners must source their own third party civil insurance. This is normally included in comprehensive policies and balance of third party policies available from the commercial insurance market.

There is usually one voiding clause by the insurance company “the vehicle must be in a roadworthy and safe condition” or words to that effect.

From my investigations, which cannot taken as conclusive, it seems that knowingly carrying a possible unstable fragmentation bomb in the vehicle is likely to contravene third party insurance.

It would seem thousands of people are possibly driving around with no third party insurance if a known faulty airbag related incident occurs.

I checked by phone with my insurance company Y - a subsidiary of insurance company X - and basically got nowhere and then checked with Z insurance company and got the same complete runaround and whose phone representative kept on circling back to MAIB for third party insurance which is only for injury. People were talking Double Dutch to answering the simple question “does notification of faulty airbags by the Motor Industry violate the third party policy if the vehicle is driven”.

I then sent an email to X insurance company and they referred me back to Y insurance company. I then sent a return email asking X insurance, what is there policy? With a longer email to Y insurance company, sent shortly after. This was Friday 19 May. To date I have not received back from Y insurance company but received an Email from X insurance company which simply dumps the whole situation onto ACCC saying “they are running the airbag recall situation ask the ACCC”.

(I would add that this is not a vendetta against a single insurance company or insurance companies per say. Who I think have every right to question the safety of vehicles which have been identified as possibly carrying these deadly devices).

There is as far as I know, on this matter, any mention of balance of Third Party liability by ACCC or by Insurance entities in public media.

In fact if you contact the ACCC they make no comment except to refer you to the relevant Motor Company and the ACCC as of writing have not replied to my email concerning their policy on insurance.

The Takata airbag catastrophe world wide is probably the greatest mass manufacturing failure of all time. From my findings the root cause is unfettered competition by arrogant giant multinational Corporations trying to drive down costs to maximise market share or penetration.

This with apparent scant regard for the integrity of the product they are making.

Then what seems an unbelievable drop in OEM quality control by the major motor manufacturers.

Then the Australian government seems more interested in protecting the finances of vested entities rather than the lives of the Australian public.

At very the minimum I think the Australian public should have full formal knowledge of the dangers presented by possible substandard Takata airbags. Then make their own informed choice as to drive a vehicle with possible faulty airbags.

I believe the ACCC should be directed to make the recall mandatory and restore the full rights of the consumer act to affected parties.

Insurance companies should state their position on this diabolical situation.

Personally I think the affected vehicles should withdrawn from service until the explosive hazard is made safe.

This article is intended to communicate and to highlight the author’s perceived Australian situation surrounding the Takata airbag saga.

To get a better understanding of the immensity of the situation globally a good start would be with this Bloomberg story:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-06-02/sixty-million-car-bombs-inside-takata-s-air-bag-crisis

There are now airbags now being listed for recalls on 2017 model vehicles and recalls on earlier recalls, it is a nightmare.

*Kelvin Jones did his technical training in UK by a major electrical engineering manufacturing company in Power Engineering with Switch and Protection specialisation moving onto defence electronics commissioning RADAR and development of underwater weapons. TV Transmission. Field work and commissioning work on industrial electronics and transmission line carrier protection. Research in cellular and fibre optics communications. Field work on scientific, bio, and medical instrumentation with extensive work on Medical Imaging particularly CT scanners and Nuclear imaging.

BBC: Takata: Airbag-maker files for banktuptcy

ABC: Driver likely killed by defective Takata airbag in Sydney crash, police say A man who died in a Sydney car crash last week was likely killed because of a defective airbag, police say. Police are linking the Takata airbag to the death of a 58-year-old man, who was driving a Honda CRV when it collided with a Toyota Celica in Cabramatta last Thursday …

ABC: Takata airbag recall process leaves drivers with ‘ticking time-bombs’, Choice says

• Marie Salvatore in Comments: Re AIRBAG RECALL my son has been telling friends and family about this problem for years people are now listening today, my self not taking it serious for a while was getting in a car with a faulty air bag but had it solved a while back, now there could be a problem as it could have been replaced with another faulty bag. We rang the car dealer Mitsubishi in Hobart today to check the type of airbag put in the car and was offered no help what’s so ever after begging would they find out for me it was still to no avail in which I was very very disappointed,I then proceeded to ring another car company to find out re airbag, and could not have asked for better service ...

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