By Eric Peters
In a strange take on William Burrough’s famous quip about gun control advocates – who want to take guns away from people who haven’t shot anyone – lawyers for explode-in-your-face air bag manufacturer Takata are trying to convince a federal judge to suspend victim’s lawsuits against the car manufacturers who unwittingly installed the defective, deadly air bags in their vehicles.
News story here.
This is generating a tsnunami of outrage – against the car manufacturers. Which is exactly like being outraged by your peaceful neighbor who has a rifle . . . because some guy in Ohio went on a rampage with one.
It’s weirder, actually – because in the case of the car companies, they never had a choice. It wasn’t their decision to put air bags in their vehicles. They were ordered to do it by federal regulators.
Two of whom can be named specifically:
Joan Claybrook – who was Jimmah Cahtah’s pick to run the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 1977-1981 and prior to that, a “public citizen” working for the ambulance-chasing lawyer, Ralph Nader. She (and he) agitated for an air bag mandate, to impose on the populace what the market had rejected. GM and Ford had tried offering air bags as optional equipment in a few of their early-mid ‘70s models, but few people voluntarily bought them. So – naturally (in the unnatural minds of control freaks like Claybrook and Nader) the bags had to be mandated.
She was a cabinet-level offender, the Secretary of Transportation from 1983-1987 under Rrrronald Rrrreagan. It was under her watch that a “Supplemental Restraint” mandate went into effect as part of something hung with the title, Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. It decreed that all vehicles manufactured after September 1, 1998 be factory equipped with bags for the driver and front seat passenger.
These bags were “defective,” too – in that it was known that the force with which they deployed could (and did) seriously hurt and even kill people. A bunch of people. Both Claybrook and Dole knew this would happen before it happened; they’d been briefed by engineers working for the car companies, who told them. It didn’t make them blink. The SRS mandate remained in place, people got killed – and neither of these two biddies were dragooned into a courtroom or even sent a fine in the mail.
Ah. Air bags are “safer” now. Adjustments were made to their design to reduce the force of the deployment when sensors in the seat sense the presence of a person who can’t absorb the impact as well as a standard-sized adult, such as a child or an older person (the sensors sense weight and most kids and older people weigh less than standard adults).
People still get hurt, sometimes very badly. No one says anything.
And then there’s this Takata business. An inherently dangerous device made more so by an outright design defect. These bags – millions of which were installed in new cars over a period of about decade – don’t just explode in your face, they spew shrapnel in your face. Pieces of jagged metal shot at high velocity by explosive force – just like an anti-personnel mine, except you didn’t get drafted and had no idea you were in the combat zone.
Takata’s to blame for their shoddy products, certainly. But what about the government – specifically, the termagants-at-gunpoint who force-fed dangerous and shoddy products to people who might have preferred to say No Thanks? How are they not to blame for making sure that millions of people ended up sitting inches away from a Claymore pointed at their faces?
But the car companies are the ones getting sued.
What the Hell?
The car companies were ordered to put the damned things in their cars – and so they did. What else could they do? If they didn’t do it – and sold cars without air bags, in defiance of the SRS mandate – the people responsible for that would have been frog-marched to the clink just like the VW engineers who “cheated” on government emissions tests.
How can they be held criminally or civilly responsible for complying with the law?
They didn’t know the Takata bags they bought – under duress, don’t forget – were more dangerous than an air bag ordinarily is. They bought them, in good faith, exactly in the same way that they buy other components from various suppliers that end up going in the cars they make.
No one is claiming – so far – that any car manufacturer knew the Takata bags were more-than-usually-dangerous. Not until they begin to maim and kill people, of course – but by then, it was too late.
Now, they are the ones stuck trying to replace literally millions of air bags – a logistical nightmare. Even if all the necessary replacements parts were in stock and on-hand, getting millions of cars into the service bays for this fairly major repair (the steering wheel/dash have to be removed/disassembled then everything put back together) is going to take years.
Meanwhile, millions of people are stuck driving around in cars that have these lethal, defective “safety” devices installed. The government does nothing about that.
Think about it.
Millions of cars – out there right now – with double-trouble air bags prone to high-velocity, explosive shrapnel-spewing and those cars are not taken off the roads. But the government goes after “clunkers” with cash… and if a cop sees you’re not buckled up… or riding your motorcycle without a helmet . . .
Doesn’t it make your teeth ache?
Mine are about to fall out of my heay-uhd.
Eric Peters is automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at ericpetersautos.com.
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