Toyota, Takata, and the NHTSA: a Plethora of Inaction


Just a few years ago, car manufacturing giant, Toyota, went through a series of recalls that forced the company to suspend the sale of eight models of its vehicles. Among those recalled were some of their top sellers: the Corolla, Camry, and Avalon (MacKenzie and Evans). Recalls were made because of faulty accelerator pedals and floor mats. A decade before the Toyota recalls, two hundred people died as a result of flawed Firestone tires on Ford Explorers (Glor).  Following the Ford Explorer malfunctions; Congress passed the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act, which requires carmakers to report defective parts to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) (Glor). Now, two years removed from one of the largest auto manufacturer recalls in the nation’s history, another problem is brewing.

However, this issue is not specific to Toyota or Ford. According to the NHTSA, “…the number of U.S. vehicles affected by recalls involving defective Takata air bags now stands at 6.1 million” (Rogers and Ramsey). There are ten different car companies with potentially faulty parts including: Honda, BMW, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota, Chrysler, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Ford, and GM (Rogers and Ramsey). Faulty airbags produced by the Takata Corporation have been shown to be capable of rupturing and sending shrapnel at drivers and passengers alike (Ramsey, “Toyota Recalls”). These airbags have been linked to dozens of injuries and in some cases have even resulted in death. The NHTSA has urged owners of the recently recalled cars to have the problems fixed, but have not issued a mandatory recall. An NHTSA spokesperson was quoted as saying, “Toyota and Takata have brought forward new test results that underscore the urgency for owners in high-risk areas to take immediate action to get their recalled vehicles fixed” (Ramsey, “Toyota Recalls”). That quote begs the question: Is merely urging owners to have their cars fixed enough to adequately protect potentially at-risk Americans?

The problem with simply urging owners to have their cars fixed is the pluralistic ignorance that comes along with it. When you “urge” owners to do something it is only implied that they should do it because there is a possibility they will be affected. The theory of pluralistic ignorance claims people need social proof of others taking the action in order for them to take action themselves. In addition, most owners have one method of transportation (their car) and taking their cars in to be fixed inconveniences them and is a luxury they cannot afford.

In light of what happened two years ago shouldn’t Toyota be more proactive in getting their potentially hazardous cars off the streets? One estimate reports, “Toyota’s costs related to the recalls and probes are likely to exceed $3.1 billion” (Ramsey, “Toyota in $1.1”). In addition to these costs, Toyota received tons of negative PR from the issue.

The auto industry is allowing the diffusion of responsibility to put Americans’ lives at risk. The NHTSA, Toyota, and Takata are all taking partial responsibility, but none of the three wants to step up and bear the brunt of the blame. Toyota should not wait for the NHTSA to make a mandatory recall and instead perform their own mandatory recall. With the help of the NHTSA and law enforcement, those who do not have their cars fixed could be subject to a fine. As far as any civil lawsuits are concerned, Takata should be charged with responsibility for the faulty airbags because they are the manufacturing company. With that being said, Toyota should still be in charge of demanding the recall and ensuring the airbags are fixed. In addition to fixing the airbags, the NHTSA and carmakers, like Toyota, should create a program that works to provide those affected with rental cars until their car has been fixed.

While it is still in the early stages of the recall and the number of cases of defective airbags injuring people has not skyrocketed, it is imperative that Toyota acts proactively to avoid another PR catastrophe. By being one of the first companies to take initiative, they will show the public that they genuinely care about their car buyers. Conversely, through the offering of incentives such as free rental cars and the possibility of government intervention with fines being levied, car owners will understand the severity of the problem. For too long the auto industry has fallen victim to the bystander effect, where big corporations sit back, afraid to fully act, and are crippled with fines as a result. If car buyers are to ever feel totally safe in their vehicles, accountability needs to be assigned to the responsible parties, and faulty parts must not only be fixed but also prevented from resurfacing.

Tommy Forse


Glor, Jeff. “Legislation Aimed at Reducing Defective Airbag Deaths failing.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 04 Nov. 2014. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.

Mackenzie, Angus, and Scott Evans. “The Toyota Recall Crisis: A Chronology of How     the World’s Largest and Most Profitable Automaker Drove into a PR Disaster.” TEN: The Enthusiast Network, Jan. 2010. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.

Ramsey, Mike. “Toyota in $1.1 Billion Gas-Pedal Settlement.” The Wall Street Journal.     Dow Jones & Company, 27 Dec. 2012. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.

Ramsey, Mike. “Toyota Recalls 247,000 Vehicles Because Air Bags May Rupture.” The                Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.

Rogers, Christina, and Mike Ramsey. “U.S. Urges Action as Air Bag Recalls Go    Unheeded.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 21 Oct. 2014. Web.          07 Nov. 2014.

White, Joseph B. “AutoNation Halting Sales of Cars Subject to Takata Airbag       Warnings.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 28 Oct. 2014. Web.                      07 Nov. 2014.

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