The crash took place near Pittsburgh, and the victim was driving a 2001 Honda Accord that was under recall, according to NHTSA, but never repaired. The boy was driving a relative's vehicle. A lawyer for the family contacted the agency on Dec. 17, and the agency has tentatively concluded the death was attributed to the airbag rupture. The death is the eighth in the United States and ninth globally caused by the faulty airbags, which explode and shower vehicle occupants with metal fragments with such force they can cause fatal injuries.
"This young man's death is tragic, and it underscores why we're continuing to work so hard to get these defective vehicles off the road," said NHTSA spokesperson Gordon Trowbridge.
The defects have been long-running and well-documented, though no specific source of the defect has been determined. High humidity is believed to play a role in the airbag inflators not working properly, and subsequently, transportation officials and automakers have prioritized cars in southern states as ones to be fixed first. The '01 Accord involved in the latest death had spent "several years" in the Gulf Coast region, according to NHTSA records. A Honda spokesperson said the car had been recalled in February 2010, when a previous owner still had possession of the vehicle. Honda says it mailed an additional recall notice to the current owner of the vehicle on July 21 -- one day before the crash.
Global equipment supplier Takata and a dozen car manufacturers have been issuing recalls for the faulty products for more than a decade. Congressional hearings have sought to determine why Takata officials delayed notification of such problems and dodged federal inquiries into the defect.
As part of a consent order related to violations of federal safety laws, Takata agreed last month to independent oversight of a safety monitor appointed by NHTSA and was slapped with a $200-million fine. On Wednesday, NHTSA officials said they had selected John Buretta, a former assistant attorney general in the criminal division for the Department of Justice, to serve in that role.
"He and his team bring tremendous experience in complex corporate investigations," NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said. "They will play a significant role in helping oversee Takata's compliance with its obligations under NHTSA enforcement orders, and in implementing the coordinated remedy program to accelerate and prioritize the largest, most complex consumer safety effort in U.S. history."
In response to the latest death, a Takata spokesperson said, "Our heartfelt condolences go out to the driver's family. We are working in close collaboration with Honda and NHTSA to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragic situation."
In separate Takata news on Wednesday, Honda announced the expansion of a recall involving passenger-side airbags. The nationwide recall adds approximately 127,000 vehicles to the existing recall. It involves 2003-2004 CR-V vehicles. The recall now involves 3.4 million cars, and it's only the latest Takata-related recall for Honda, which has been affected by the problems more than any other automaker.