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Auto Safety Watchdog Apologizes for Air Bag Warning Snafu

 / Updated  / Source: The Detroit Bureau

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The nation’s top automotive safety official has issued an apology regarding incorrect informationissued about the number of vehicles equipped with faulty Takata air bags which left motorists scrambling for answers earlier this week.

David Friedman, deputy administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, offered up the apology late Wednesday in a statement after the agency shorted the total number of vehicles with the airbags by 3.1 million vehicles. It later corrected the information, raising to about 8 million the total number of vehicles in the warning that urges motorists to fix faulty air bags that could spew shrapnel when deployed.

NHTSA also forgot to include two automakers – Ford and Subaru – in the tally, used incorrect figures for others, including counting vehicles from General Motors that didn’t actually use the airbags.

On top of those problems, the website designed to allow vehicle owners to check if their vehicle is being recalled crashed and was down for several hours after the warning went out on Monday.

“We greatly regret that the information provided in our initial safety advisory was inaccurate and that we have experienced significant problems with our website.”

“We greatly regret that the information provided in our initial safety advisory was inaccurate and that we have experienced significant problems with our website,” Friedman said in the statement. “We have developed an effective workaround to the website problem that gets people the safety information they need now while we work to fix our system.”

Friedman added the agency is engaged in an investigation and has “identified the problem” with air bags manufactured by Japan's Takata. He noted the agency is ensuring the cars are recalled in parts of the country “where there is a demonstrated risk.” The agency has recently focused its Takata efforts on high-humidity regions, including U.S. states along the Gulf of Mexico.

That restricted geographic-based effort has drawn the ire of watchdog groups and politicians alike. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center of Auto Safety, has been criticizing the move since July.

Additionally, the New York Times reported that Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey plan to send a letter today chiding NHTSA for how it is handling of the recalls, particularly the regional approach, which was suggested by the automakers.

In an email, NHTSA said it has received the letter and, “will respond directly to the Senator’s regarding their concerns. Public safety is NHTSA’s top priority and the agency is working to establish a new normal for automakers. That’s why NHTSA launched an aggressive investigation into Takata airbags and urged all of the affected automakers to immediately conduct recalls in areas with the highest known risk despite the uncertainties in this case.”

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