Honda says Florida crash death may be linked to Takata air bag inflator

(Reuters) - Honda Motor Co said on Thursday that a Takata airbag inflator ruptured in car crash last week in Florida, in what could be the 19th death worldwide linked to faulty airbags recalled as part of the largest automotive safety campaign in history.

FILE PHOTO: A technician holds a recalled Takata airbag inflator in Miami, Florida June 25, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

The Japanese automaker said the driver of a 2002 Honda Accord was killed in Holiday, Florida, after the inflator ruptured. An official cause of death has not been announced.

Last week, authorities in Australia said the death of a Sydney man earlier this month was likely the result of a faulty Takata airbag inflator.

At least 18 deaths and 180 injuries worldwide have been tied to the defect that led Takata Corp to file for bankruptcy protection last month. Takata inflators can explode with excessive force, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks.

Last week’s crash involved a 34-year-old woman who died around 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday in a head-on collision near St. Petersburg when a 19-year-old driving a 1999 Pontiac Firebird turned into her path, according to local media reports.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent an investigator to Florida.

The inflator in 2002 Accords has been recalled since 2011 and Honda said it had mailed 21 recall notices over several years to registered owners of this vehicle. Ten notices had been sent to the current registered owner, but the repairs were never completed, Honda said.

“This is more evidence that the recall is failing and not enough is being done to find the affected vehicles and fix them,” U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said in a statement.

Honda said it has adequate replacement parts and urged owners “to seek repair as soon as possible,” adding that older vehicles, especially 2001-2003 Honda vehicles, pose the greatest safety risk.

Last year, NHTSA urged owners to stop driving about 300,000 2001-2003 Honda vehicles until they were fixed. NHTSA said some 2001-2003 vehicles had as much as a 50 percent chance of a dangerous air bag inflator rupture in a crash.

Of the deaths linked to Takata inflators, 17 involved Honda vehicles since May 2009, including five in Malaysia using a different type Takata inflator. One death occurred in a Ford Motor Co vehicle in South Carolina in December 2015.

Scott Caudill, chief operating officer of TK Holdings, Takata’s U.S. unit, has said Takata recalled, or expected to recall, about 125 million vehicles worldwide by 2019, including more than 60 million in the United States.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Chang and Dan Grebler