GLOBAL VEHICLE RECALL: Takata is at the centre of a global vehicle recall due to defective air bags linked to several deaths.Image: AP / Shizuo Kambayashi
DETROIT, Michigan - Honda admitted on Monday (Nov 24) that it failed to report to US safety regulators more than 1700 injury and death claims involving its vehicles, in violation of federal law.
The Japanese automaker, in statements issued on Monday (Nov 24 2014), said it became aware of the omissions in 2011 yet it took about three years to take action.
The company said it filed documents detailing the lapses on Monday with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which had demanded an explanation on Nov 3. The agency said at the time that Honda may have failed to report incidents related to air bags made by Takata as well as other defective parts.
INADVERTENT DATA ENTRY
Honda has recalled more than five-million vehicles in the US since 2008 to fix a potentially fatal defect in air bags made by Japanese auto supplier Takata. The air bag inflators can rupture during a crash and injure or kill passengers with flying shards of metal.
Honda blamed the lapses on inadvertent data entry and computer programming errors, as well as a misinterpretation of the federal TREAD act, a law passed in 2000 requiring faster reporting of deaths, injuries and safety defects by automakers. Under the law, automakers must report each quarter any claims they receive alleging that defective vehicles or parts caused a death or injury.
Honda said it did not report 1729 death/injury claims from July 1 200 through to June 30 2014. During those 11 years the company reported 1144 claims. The numbers were the result of an audit by the law firm Bowman and Brooke that began on Sept 23. The unreported claims included a death and seven injuries attributed to faulty Takata air bag inflators but Honda's statement said those were reported to the NHTSA in other unspecified ways from 2009 to 2013.
The unreported death happened on May 27 2009. Ashley Parham, 18, of Oklahoma City, was driving a 2001 Honda Accord across a high school car park and collided with another car. The air bag inflated but its casing sent shards of metal into her neck.
Her family sued Honda the following month.
'NO CONCLUSIVE ACTION'
Honda acknowledged in statements that one of its employees recognised the data-entry errors in 2011 and the company was made aware of under-reporting by the NHTSA in January 2012. It was unclear how NHTSA responded to the problem. Messages were left for the agency.
Executive vice-president Rick Schostek said during a teleconference with reporters after which he refused questions because of legalities: "Honda began looking into the issue at that time but did not take conclusive action.”
Honda said it was taking corrective action to make sure the lapses did no reoccur.
Clarence Ditlow, head of non-profit watchdog the Centre for Auto Safety, said Honda should get the maximum fine for "massively" violating the law and urged the NHTSA to refer the case to the Justice Department for criminal investigation
Ditlow said it "strains credulity" that a sophisticated company such as Honda could make so many errors.
The NHTSA has the authority to fine automakers up to $35-million for failing to report defects in a timeously. The agency wants to increase the maximum fine to $300-million.