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Lawmakers Call for Criminal Probe over Takata Air Bags

Nov 11, 2014

Following a report that Takata Corp. might have destroyed evidence prior to its recall of exploding air bags, U.S. Senators are calling for the Justice Department to launch a criminal probe. According to the New York Times, two former unidentified employees said that Takata tested the air bags 2004 to see if shrapnel could be fly towards front-seat passengers, but then hid the evidence.

In a statement, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts said “If the reports are true, the company must be held accountable for the horrific deaths and injuries that its wrongdoing caused,” according to Bloomberg News. “These allegations are credible and shocking -- plainly warranting a prompt and aggressive criminal probe.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has established a deadline of December 1st for Takata to answer questions under oath and submit materials detailing how it dealt with air bag problems as early as 2000, Bloomberg reports. A criminal investigation could lead to a fine or imprisonment for company executives.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) also called for the Justice Department to weigh a criminal probe. McCaskill has presided over three hearings on General Motors, who has been under intense scrutiny over defective ignition switches, this year. According to Bloomberg, Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) called the allegations “deeply troubling”. He called for an investigation by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican. Upton stated that a review of Takata has already been launched, with bipartisan staff briefings from NHTSA and the manufacturers.

Democratic representatives Diana DeGette of Colorado and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois backed Waxman; a statement issued by the lawmakers asked if NHTSA has “the budget or the statutory tools it needs to prevent defective vehicles from being sold to consumers.”

Last month, NHTSA issued a public advisory urging drivers to replace Takata air bags in nearly 8 million cars recalled by 10 automakers. The models most affected in the U.S. were manufactured by Honda Motor Co. The agency asked Honda to answer dozens of detailed questions regarding fatalities, injuries and manufacturing issues dating back to 1998.

U.S. Transportation Department spokesman Brain Farber stated in an email that the new allegations “have raised additional concerns about Takata’s handling of air-bag issues and are one of the reasons we’re compelling them to produce documents and answer questions,” Bloomberg reports. If the companies miss their deadlines or give inadequate answered, they could face civil fines as high as $35 million.

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