Working Together to Save Lives

From uncomfortable first encounter to urgent Public Service Campaign

Our first meeting, three years ago today, was an uncomfortable moment, coming just minutes before we both testified to a U.S. Senate committee investigating deaths and injuries from rupturing Takata airbag inflators.

Back on November 20, 2014, the perception in the public and the media was that we were on opposite sides of the Takata airbag inflator issue. After all, one of us was seriously injured by a Takata airbag inflator in a car accident, and the other works for the company that manufactured the car. But we talked about how we could work together to help prevent injuries to others.

Collaboration soon followed, and with a very personal public service announcement (PSA), we are taking the latest step in our joint efforts to save lives and prevent injuries. This new public service campaign urges owners to quickly complete the necessary, and free, repairs of an affected vehicle.

The reality is that over 40 million vehicles made by some 10 different automakers have been recalled to replace front Takata airbag inflators on the driver’s side, passenger’s side, or both. However, despite a multi-year notification effort by automakers to reach owners, millions of these cars and trucks have yet to be repaired. The consequences could be tragic.

The PSA shares a personal and traumatic moment that resulted in a severe eye injury, emotional distress and months of recovery. We sincerely hope this straightforward and personal message will prevent more people from experiencing this kind of pain and suffering, or loss of life, because they fail to recognize, or they ignore, the importance of this repair.

We hope television stations across the country will utilize our new PSA to alert their viewers of this recall and publicize the quick and easy step to check their vehicles.

This PSA is not the first time we have worked together to increase recall repair rates of Takata airbag inflators. Two years ago, in the pages of Automotive News, we jointly advocated for a government requirement that all outstanding safety recall repairs be completed before a vehicle can be legally registered in a state, similar to existing emission checks. We continue to believe that a registration requirement would dramatically reduce the risk of death and injury that result from unrepaired safety recalls, especially in older model vehicles. And earlier this year, we collaborated on a unique mailing to Honda and Acura customers that contained many of the important messages and images in the new PSA.

Of special concern with the Takata recalls is a dangerous nexus; research shows that the response and repair rate is much worse for older cars, and the majority of the Takata airbag ruptures to date have involved vehicles that are now more than 10 years old.

Reaching owners of recalled vehicles can be a big challenge. Despite millions of notifications in both English and Spanish, the use of phone calls, unique mail campaigns and even door-to-door canvassing to help track down certain customers, too many recalled vehicles remain unrepaired, and the risk of death or injury remains high.

There are a number of reasons for this. When automakers mail recall notices, customers might miss a recall entirely due to a recent change of address. Or, if the owner does receive a notice, it might be discarded in error because they think it is junk mail. And sometimes, the owner might intend to get the repair completed, but doesn’t recognize the urgency and simply forgets or cannot find the time.

While automakers will always have a critical responsibility in notifying owners, everyone can play an important role in making sure these vehicles are repaired. We ask everyone to talk with their friends, family and co-workers and to please share the PSA with anyone who might benefit. And we encourage everyone who owns a vehicle to check for open recalls at https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls and make needed repairs at an authorized dealership.

So, while our initial meeting before a Senate committee three years ago may have been uncomfortable, we are now firmly united in this cause. We hope you will join us in spreading the word to family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues who may own an affected vehicle. As the PSA starkly states, getting this free repair could be the difference between life and death.

Stephanie Erdman Rick Schostek
Stephanie Erdman is a resident of Georgia Executive Vice President
Honda North America, Inc.