Air bag victim urges owners to get cars fixed
DETROIT – A woman who was seriously hurt by an exploding Takata air bag inflator in a 2013 crash is helping Honda’s effort to persuade car owners to get the dangerous parts replaced.
Stephanie Erdman, an Air Force officer, nearly lost her right eye when the inflator in her 2002 Civic exploded into pieces in the crash. She is appearing in Facebook videos that will be targeted starting Monday to Honda owners who have yet to get free repairs under the massive Takata recalls.
The videos come just three days after a report found that 19 automakers have replaced only 43 percent of recalled Takata inflators in the U.S., despite the threat that they can break apart and hurl shrapnel into drivers and passengers. Nineteen people worldwide, including 13 in the U.S., have been killed by the faulty inflators. At least 180 have been injured.
“I feel like there needs to be a real sense of urgency on the part of anyone driving these cars,” Erdman said in an interview. “I don’t want them to have to go through what I went through.”
Erdman, 32, who now lives in Georgia, explains in a video how to type a car’s 17-digit vehicle identification number into a government website to check for unrepaired recalls. “Waiting even for a day could be the difference between life and death,” she says in the video.
The problem: Takata uses ammonium nitrate in its inflators to create a small explosion and fill up the air bags quickly. But the chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to humidity and burn too fast, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing shrapnel.
The problem forced Takata of Japan into bankruptcy protection and caused the largest automotive recall in U.S. history with 42 million vehicles and up to 69 million inflators being called back for repairs. The recalls are being phased in during the next three years.
In September of 2013, another car pulled in front of Erdman’s Civic, causing a collision near Pensacola, Florida. The air bags deployed, but the driver’s side inflator blew apart, sending metal fragments into Erdman’s eye and face. She remembers thinking that she had lost the eye, feeling blood run down her face, and joking with the ambulance crew on a 45-minute ride to a trauma center.
Since then she’s had four surgeries, some to remove metal fragments, and one to build a new eyelid from tissue taken from one of her ears. She still had double vision and migraine headaches, and because she can’t close the eyelid all the way, has trouble sleeping.
Working with Honda was a big step for Erdman. Just three years ago she was critical of Honda when testifying at a U.S. Senate hearing. Erdman, who settled a lawsuit with Honda for an undisclosed sum and says she isn’t being paid to do the videos, says she now has the same goal as the company, to get the dangerous inflators off the roads.
Facebook videos: Honda says it shared data with Facebook about people who haven’t gotten their inflators replaced. Facebook will then use that to make the videos appear on the owners’ feeds.
Honda is among the leaders in getting recall repairs done, with 64.8 percent replaced as of Oct. 27, according to government figures. Honda was Takata’s largest customer, and all the deaths but one have been in Hondas. The company also has been visiting owners’ homes trying to get the most dangerous inflators replaced. But it’s not the only automaker to go to unusual lengths. Fiat Chrysler is sharing Takata recall data with collision repair shops, alerting them when a car brought in for repairs has an open recall. The shops then tell the owner how to get the repairs done. So far this has led to 6,300 repairs, FCA said.
Honda also said that based on evidence from authorities, the company has determined that a Florida woman who died in a July crash was killed by an exploded Takata inflator. Authorities had suspected that the air bag killed Nichol Lynn Barker, 34, of Holiday, but Florida authorities have yet to make that official.