10 Oct 2017

Car firms want crackdown on motorists over faulty airbags

8:38 am on 10 October 2017

Car companies fed up at motorists' inaction on faulty airbags are pressuring authorities to force owners to get them fixed.

A car with airbag inflated.

A car with airbags inflated. Photo: 123RF

Faulty airbags manufactured by Takata Corporation are in millions of cars worldwide, and have been implicated in at least 18 deaths and 180 injuries.

Tens of thousands of cars in New Zealand have been recalled for a free repair. However, half the 140,000 New Zealand motorists so far asked up to five times by car companies to come in for a free fix of their airbag had not done so.

The Motor Industry Association (MIA) wants car owners who have ignored multiple requests to fix the airbag inflators to be denied a Warrant of Fitness for their vehicle.

But the Transport Agency (NZTA) says the airbag threat falls short of being an immediate and serious safety risk that demands vehicles be taken off the road.

MIA chief executive David Crawford, who went into the first meeting of a joint task force with the Transport Agency on the airbags late last week, was angered at the agency's response.

"It seems that inconvenience has a higher priority in the NZTA's thinking than safety of life," he wrote in a column in Autotalk magazine last night.

"The stakes are high. We don't know which airbag inflators are faulty and if an accident happens ... and somebody gets seriously injured or killed ... that's what frightens us as an industry."

Airbag shrapnel was implicated in the death of a Sydney driver in July and almost killed a Darwin woman in a low-speed crash in April.

"People just don't seem to be bothering. They're taking these letters ... and throwing them on the pile on the top of the microwave," said Richard Edwards of Autotalk magazine.

Mr Crawford said the Transport Agency's response capped a frustrating eight years of his association arguing for better policing of car safety recalls with little result.

He expected 90 percent of vehicle owners might eventually get airbags replaced, despite the slow response so far, but that would still leave more than 30,000 vehicles on the road.

"We don't want to wait till we're in that situation. We want the government to put processes in place now ... we need to find a way to say ... if you've chosen to ignore, well I'm sorry, you can't ignore it any longer."

There is no mechanism at present to prevent a Warrant of Fitness being issued to a car that has a faulty airbag.

The Transport Agency said in a statement that taking a vehicle off the road over a potential fault would go against world-wide practice.

It said the airbags were a step removed from being an immediate and serious safety risk.

Its role was "generally to support manufacturer's representatives in their recall activities. The nature of this support varies with the seriousness of the safety risk, and the Transport Agency is working with the MIA on how the two organisations can work together to increase the response rate for all recalls," the agency said.

Mr Crawford estimated that since the airbag recall was announced in 2013, tens of thousands of imports had been sold here without being fixed. He described importers as "sloppy" for leaving it up to new car distributors to lead the way.

He was, however, a little more hopeful the Transport Agency might crack down on that.

But the agency's statement did not mention imports, and David Vinsen of the Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association said it would be difficult to crack down.

"It would be very hard to enforce."

He said it was hard to identify which vehicles subject to the recall had been fixed, and secondly, there was a big problem getting enough parts to fix the airbags.

Find out if your vehicle is subject to the recall here and at the NZTA site.

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