There may be a device in your vehicle which is intended to protect passengers involved in a crash, but if deployed, could potentially become a bomb, hurling shrapnel throughout the vehicle. 

It’s the vehicle’s airbags, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is poised to recall ARC-made airbags that at least 25 million, and up to 52 million vehicles, may be carrying. 

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A Plea For A Recall 

The Associated Press supplied the details for this recall merry-go-round. It was in May of 2023 when the NHTSA asked ARC Automotive Inc. of Knoxville, Tennessee, to recall the inflators, which it says are responsible for at least seven injuries and two deaths in the United States and Canada since 2009. As of October 2023, ARC has refused to issue a full-scale recall. It appears that only a court fight will cause the company to take notice.  

An Exploding Canister At The Height Of Your Head 

It’s the metal inflator canister, inside of the airbag device, that is the heart of the problem. The NHTSA says that there is a crucial flaw, in the design of the device, that could cause the canister to rupture upon impact. Instead of releasing pressurized gas to inflate the airbag, the canister basically explodes, sending metal shrapnel throughout the vehicle at head height. Bruce York of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation says, 

These injuries can be gruesome and can happen in crashes where otherwise the individual would have walked away from the crash unharmed. 

Certain Airbags Could Be Deadly If Deployed

Certain airbags could be deadly if deployed.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

A Michigan Mother of 10 Is Fatally Injured 

A public hearing was held on October 5, 2023, where testimony was heard concerning the potential hazard of airbags manufactured by ARC and Delphi Automotive Systems. A Michigan man shared his story on how tragedy struck his family when his mother was killed by an exploding ARC airbag canister. 

Marlene Beaudoin, a 40-year-old single mother of 10 from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was on a drive with four of her sons in the car. It was a trip to get ice cream that came to a tragic end when she became involved in a minor crash. The ARC airbag canister ruptured, sending shrapnel into her neck; she died several hours later. Travis has now become the legal guardian for six of his younger siblings. 

ARC And GM Denies That There Is A Problem 

Steve Gold, ARC’s vice-president of product integrity, doesn’t feel that the NHTSA’s demand for a recall is based on technical conclusions, but rather, a hypothesis. He claims that the examples cited by the NHTSA were “isolated incidents and are not indicative of systemic defect.” He added that his company has submitted “tens of thousands of documents” that the NHTSA has requested. 

 General Motors, one of the major car manufacturers using the ARC airbag inflators, agrees with the ARC official. They say that years of investigation had failed to definitively point out a systemic design flaw. GM, trying to assure the public, went on to state, 

GM will continue to work collaboratively with NHTSA, other manufacturers, and ARC to monitor and investigate the long-term performance and safety of ARC airbag inflators. If GM concludes at any time that any unrecalled ARC inflators are unsafe, the company will take appropriate action in cooperation with NHTSA.

A Simple "Fender Bender" May Prove To Be Deadly 

Unfortunately, neither the NHTSA, ARC, nor any of the affected automakers have released a full list of car models with the inflators. As the debate continues over the potential airbag recall, Michiganders may want to keep in mind that even a simple “fender bender” may cause an explosion that could hurl metal shrapnel throughout their vehicle. 

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Gallery Credit: Brad Carpenter

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