A picture of Senator Bill Nelson
Bill N.
Democrat FL

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  • Airbags

    by Senator Bill Nelson

    Posted on 2014-11-12

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    NELSON. Mr. President, there has been quite a bit in the press about defective exploding airbags. This is a part of a steering wheel with the airbag deployed. In the steering wheel, the driver would be like this with their hands on the steering wheel. When the impact occurs and the airbag is deployed, instantly, if you have seen that kind of impact on the airbag, because of the chemicals inside of the steering wheel, it causes an explosion that comes out of already existing holes in the metal that contains the airbag and it deploys the airbag like this so that the--in this case, the driver--in the case of the passenger, the same, but it is not a steering wheel like this. That protects and has saved countless, thousands and thousands of lives. The fact is that we now know there are four people in this country who are dead. There are a hundred who are injured. That is not including the international office, because of the defective airbag that has been manufactured by a Japanese manufacturer. What its defect is is that instead of the chemicals exploding to inflate the airbag, it explodes with such force for all of this that is contained within the steering wheel before it explodes. There is metal.

    When the chemical explosion occurs, it is supposed to go through the airholes and fill the bag. Instead, what [[Page S5900]] has happened in the explosion, it is with such force that some of the metal becomes shrapnel and comes through the bag and in effect becomes lethal projectiles that harm either the driver or the passenger.

    For example, on this exploded airbag, I want you to see the size of the hole that was ripped in this bag here. Here is another one. A hole that was ripped. There are holes in other parts of the bag. Obviously this isn't supposed to occur.

    As a matter of fact, I visited with a constituent from central Florida. This is a firefighter with a young wife and a young child. A piece of shrapnel, in this particular constituent's case, came into his eye.

    Therefore, in his occupation as a firefighter, he will not be able to fulfill the financial support for his family as a firefighter. Four people in this country are confirmed dead, and 100 are injured.

    We have a Federal agency that is supposed to be protecting us. It is called the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    Recently, because of the attention brought to this matter, they have come out and said they want these recalls, but the recalls first started out at about 4.7 million. It has been doubled to 7.8 million. It is increasing all the time, and it is expected that it will be in the range of 11 million in this country and 16 million recalls worldwide.

    Normally, if you could get the recalls done, once it occurs--once the defect is known--then the public is protected.

    But it seems like, similarly to some dragging of the feet of automobile manufacturers and their parts manufacturers in the past, that is what is occurring here. What we are also seeing is a Federal agency that in this Senator's opinion has not been right up front, forward leaning, and aggressive to protect the public.

    Thus, I have requested of the Secretary of the Department of Transportation to get in this and to do several things: First, to make sure that all these recalls are happening, and, secondly, if you are a person who knows of the recall because the automobile manufacturer has sent you a letter, are you going to be wanting to drive around if they tell you they can't fix it immediately? Are you going to be wanting to drive around in an automobile that could suddenly explode and cover you with metal shrapnel, severely injuring or killing you? Of course not.

    So where is the automobile manufacturer with regard to giving a loaner until that air bag can be replaced with a safe one or where are they with regard to providing a rental car? For the automobile company to say we will disable the airbag until we can get the proper replacement, that is not a solution because often the seatbelt and the airbag are designed to work in conjunction with each other to protect the safety of the driver and the passenger. So driving around in a disabled airbag is not a solution. The solution is prompt replacement of the defective, lethal airbags or, until they can be replaced, to give the customer another automobile that is safe.

    Along the way, someone came up with the brilliant idea in the Federal agency that they were going to issue just regional recalls under the assumption that highway humidity, in fact, is one of the causes. They don't know that, but that is one of the suspicious causes. But what does a regional recall do for the protection of the public? Aren't we a mobile society? If you say we have high humidity in my State of Florida, in Texas and in other Southern States, aren't we a mobile society in which people in other parts of the country who own automobiles come to our States? Of course we are.

    Oh, by the way, how about some States in the north that have high humidity in the summer--if, in fact, that is the cause. So to say that a solution to the problem is a regional recall is totally ridiculous and the Federal regulatory agency should not be issuing these kinds of edicts if we are serious about protecting the public.

    I have recommended, in a letter that has been signed by several of our colleagues to the Secretary of Transportation, Secretary Foxx, that he start imposing the maximum fine allowed by law per day against the automobile manufacturers for any days that are missed in replacing the defective airbags so that people will not have to drive around in cars with this defect.

    While we were home over this recess during the election, I had an airbag explode and demonstrate its force. It is severe, and it is quick, as it has to be in order to protect the passenger in an automobile accident.

    But if that airbag is defectively constructed so that the explosive force becomes like a hand grenade exploding and sending pieces of a metal into the human body which the very device is supposed to protect, then it is time for action. I hope the folks who are manufacturing and installing these defective airbags indeed are hearing these words of warning.

    I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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