Texas teen's death spurs renewed call to fix recalled cars

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 07, 2016 9:14 PM

By Bernie Woodall and David Shepardson

(Reuters) - The brother of a Texas teenager killed by shrapnel from an exploding Takata Corp air bag said on Thursday that his family never received a recall notice about the defective vehicle safety device.

The brother's comments came as federal safety regulators called current methods of alerting consumers about vehicle safety recalls inadequate.

They also contradicted a statement from Honda Motor Co that said notices to replace the air bag were sent to the owners of the 2002 Honda Civic involved in the accident in which Huma Hanif, a high school senior, was killed.

Hanif's death was the 10th in the United States linked to defective air bags made by Takata. Automakers have repaired or replaced about a quarter of the estimated 29 million defective Takata air bags recalled, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Hanif, of Richmond, Texas, died on March 31 after the 14-year-old Civic she was driving hit the rear of another vehicle at an intersection, causing the air bag to deploy. Texas officials released new details about the accident on Thursday.

Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy E. Nehls and other officials told a news conference that Hanif, 17, should have survived the relatively minor accident that crumpled the car's hood. However, an autopsy showed that her jugular vein and carotid artery were cut by metal shrapnel from the air bag's inflator.

In a video, a sheriff's department official was shown holding a blood stained air bag. Another official displayed a jagged piece of metal identified as the object found in Hanif's neck.

Faizan Hanif, the victim's brother, said the family had not received a recall notice from Honda. "I wish we had received a notice from Honda so we could have avoided this tragedy," he told reporters. He urged others to get cars with defective air bags fixed "before you lose a loved one."

Honda said owners of the Civic, including the current owner, had been mailed multiple notices since 2011 about air bag-related recalls.

Pictures released by the Sheriff's office on Thursday showed the vehicle with deployed air bags but little other apparent damage to the passenger compartment. Nehls reiterated earlier comments that everyone involved in the accident should have walked away from it.

Separately, a NHTSA spokesman told Reuters the agency plans to be louder and more public about requiring manufacturers to do a better job reaching out to vehicle owners and making sure recalls are completed.

Traditional methods to reach consumers, such as mailings, are inadequate, spokesman Bryan Thomas said. "More must be done," he said.

A Honda spokesman said on Wednesday the automaker has more than doubled the size of its customer relations team working to get owners to respond to requests to get recalled cars with Takata air bags fixed at no cost.

On April 14, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind will testify before a congressional subcommittee chaired by Michael C. Burgess of Texas, who signaled in a statement on Thursday the Takata air bag issue will be on his agenda.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Tom Brown)