[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, demanded answers from auto industry and regulatory representatives today at a hearing to examine the progress of the Takata airbag recall. Ordered by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2014, the recall of vehicles with defective Takata airbags is the largest and most complex recall in U.S. history.
“This recall has been plagued by delays. They are deadly delays. The number of fatalities since our last hearing has doubled,” Blumenthal said in his opening statement. “All of these deaths are preventable. Only about half of the vehicles with defective Takata airbags have been repaired. Those facts are staggering in an industry that has an obligation to do better, and I believe that, unfortunately, NHTSA, Ford, and Takata are all aware of the need to do better.” Video of Blumenthal’s full opening statement is available for download here.
Yesterday, Blumenthal and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) released a comprehensive report that found that eleven of the 17 automakers affected by the Takata airbag recall – including Ford – have unsatisfactory loaner car policies that fail to effectively protect drivers and passengers from risks associated with the continued use of vehicles with Takata airbags. In an exchange with Desi Ujkashevic, Global Director of Ford Motor Company’s Automotive Safety Office, Blumenthal urged Ford to commit to “evolve [its] policy further… provide loaner vehicles to everyone who has a defective and potentially lethal part in their car.” Video of Blumenthal’s full exchange with Ujkashevic is available for download here.
The hearing took place the day after the first documented fatal crash between an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian. At the hearing, Blumenthal said, “In 2016, there were 1.18 fatalities for every 100 million miles driven [by a human-driven car]. To date, self-driving cars have logged a lot fewer than 100 million miles. Waymo reported logging 4 million miles and Uber has just reached 2 million miles with its autonomous vehicles. At this rate, that’s 1 fatality for 6 million miles.”
Blumenthal asked Heidi King, Deputy Administrator of NHTSA, “Now, that comparison may be unrepresentative, but is NHTSA collecting information necessary to assess if human vehicles are at least as safe as human-driven vehicles?”
In response, King admitted the agency has no idea if autonomous vehicles are safer than human-driven vehicles, saying “At this point I would not know how to define self-driving vehicles.” Video of Blumenthal’s full exchange with King is available for download here.