Lax laws, flawed re­call blamed for airbag deaths

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Nida Fatin Mat Asis was slumped life­less in her car seat, bleed­ing pro­fusely from her nose and mouth, after her Honda hit a lamp­post and skid­ded into a ditch. Her hus­band was slightly in­jured, and their baby wasn’t hurt at all. Her hus­band, like Nida a doc­tor, had no idea what had hap­pened un­til the post-mortem came in: A bro­ken metal can­is­ter, later iden­ti­fied as part of an airbag in­fla­tor, had shot through her mouth and lodged in the base of her skull.

The deaths of Nida and four other Malaysians have been linked to faulty Takata airbags that are at the cen­ter of one of the world’s largest auto re­calls. The US, with 11 deaths, is the only other coun­try to have re­ported such fa­tal­i­ties. Why this South­east Asian coun­try of 30 mil­lion would be hit dis­pro­por­tion­ately hard by the de­fec­tive airbags is a mys­tery. The fam­i­lies of two Malaysian vic­tims and a sur­vivor blame weak­nesses in their coun­try’s re­call sys­tem. They also say Honda, the top for­eign brand in Malaysia, hasn’t done enough to warn car own­ers and hasn’t pro­vided enough re­place­ment parts or al­ter­na­tive op­tions for car own­ers if re­pairs can­not be done im­me­di­ately.

The de­fec­tive airbags have faulty in­fla­tors and pro­pel­lant de­vices that may de­ploy im­prop­erly in an ac­ci­dent, shoot­ing out metal frag­ments that can in­jure or kill. All the deaths in Malaysia in­volved the Honda City, a sub­com­pact made for Asia and Europe. Ex­perts say heat and hu­mid­ity can make airbag ex­plo­sions more likely, but neigh­bor­ing Thai­land, with a sim­i­lar trop­i­cal cli­mate, has re­ported no deaths.

In his first me­dia in­ter­view since his wife died on April 16, her hus­band Ab­dul­lah Shamshir Ab­dul Mokti told AP they were un­aware of the re­call and never got a no­tice from Honda for their used car. Ini­tially, he thought Nida, 29, had suf­fered a con­cus­sion. He was hor­ri­fied to find no pulse. “The in­fla­tor must have shot through her mouth like a bul­let,” he said. The post-mortem re­port, shown to the AP, said a bro­ken, 2.6-cm di­am­e­ter, 2-cm long airbag in­fla­tor lodged in the base of Nida’s skull. Her teeth were smashed and her nose frac­tured. In­juries to her brain stem likely caused her im­me­di­ate death, it said.

“As a Mus­lim, I ac­cepted her death as fate but I also believe she is a vic­tim of multi­na­tional cor­po­rate man­slaugh­ter,” Shamshir said. “I hold Honda and Takata re­spon­si­ble. This isn’t an iso­lated case. We have five deaths in Malaysia, five very pre­ventable deaths.” More than 100 mil­lion ve­hi­cles in­volv­ing 17 au­tomak­ers have been re­called world­wide, in­clud­ing 69 mil­lion in the US alone, un­der­scor­ing the scale of the cri­sis.

The first ac­ci­dent in Malaysia in July 2014 killed a preg­nant women and her un­born child. Three other peo­ple died after Nida’s death, the last on Sept 24. No­ra­zlin Haron died in a mi­nor col­li­sion June 26 in a sub­urb of Kuala Lumpur. A few weeks ear­lier, she had tried to get her car’s airbag re­placed after re­ceiv­ing a re­call no­tice, but was told to re­turn in July be­cause parts were not avail­able, said her el­dest sis­ter, Nor’ain Haron. A frac­tured in­fla­tor, found in the car, may have punc­tured No­ra­zlin’s chest and lungs, said Nor’ain. “It’s like hav­ing a live bul­let in the car,” said Roslinya Latip, No­ra­zlin’s sis­ter-in-law. “Honda is not do­ing enough. You sent a let­ter with an ur­gent stamp but there is no spare part and no Plan B. What’s the point?”

Honda’s first let­ters to car own­ers were la­beled an “in­vi­ta­tion for prod­uct up­date”. Later let­ters, stamped “ur­gent”, no­ti­fied car own­ers of an “airbag in­fla­tor re­place­ment ac­tiv­ity,” but did not ex­plain the re­call and risks in­volved. There is also no ex­pla­na­tion nor men­tion of deaths in the re­call sec­tion of Honda Malaysia’s web­site. Honda America has a web­site on the re­calls ex­plain­ing the prob­lem, in­clud­ing a video clip show­ing how the airbags can ex­plode. It lists dates and lo­ca­tions of airbag-re­lated deaths in the US.

There are no in­ter­na­tional stan­dards for auto safety or re­calls. The Malaysian As­so­ci­a­tion of Stan­dards Users, a con­sumer group, blames the deaths on lax auto safety laws. It has called for a new ve­hi­cle safety au­thor­ity sim­i­lar to the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion in the US, and for a strict, clear war­ranty law to pro­tect car own­ers. Malaysia is South­east Asia’s third-big­gest car mar­ket after Thai­land and In­done­sia, with more than 666,000 new cars sold last year. The trans­port min­istry and the Road Trans­port Depart­ment didn’t re­spond to AP queries about the airbag re­calls and ac­ci­dents.

Honda Malaysia told the AP in an email that 60 per­cent of the airbags have been re­placed. The fam­i­lies of Nida and No­ra­zlin are in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Honda over a set­tle­ment, as is house­wife Rabiah Ibrahim, whose near-miss led her to speak out. A rup­tured in­fla­tor slashed Rabiah’s neck on May 3 after a mi­nor ac­ci­dent in a small town in north­west­ern Perak state. Rabiah, who bought the car used in 2010, says she didn’t know about the re­call. “I am so thank­ful that I have been given a sec­ond chance in life, but Honda should be re­spon­si­ble,” she said. — AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.