WASHINGTON (AFP) - A defective Takata airbag likely caused an eighth fatality in the United States in July, underscoring the need for the devices to be replaced immediately, a US regulator said Wednesday.
The latest fatality involved a 21-year-old male in a 2001 Honda Accord in the state of Pennsylvania, said a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"Unfortunately we have to report that NHTSA has learned of an eighth US fatality that appears to be related to the rupture of a Takata driver side inflator," NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said on a conference call with reporters.
"It underscores why we're continuing to work so hard to get these defective inflators off the road." Trowbridge said the agency is working with the man's attorney, Takata and Honda to confirm the airbag as the root cause of the death. If confirmed, the Pennsylvania case would take the death count from the Takata scandal to nine worldwide.
The Japanese supplier of auto parts has been in the hot seat for months over the exploding-airbags scandal.
The defect - thought to be associated with a chemical propellant that helps inflate the devices - can cause them to deploy with explosive force and send metal shrapnel hurtling toward drivers and passengers - in some cases killing them or leaving grisly injuries.
The NHTSA has said 19 million vehicles in the US have the faulty devices.
Trowbridge said the pace of recall completions is "accelerating," but that the matter cannot be delayed.
"Everyday an inflator that remains in a vehicle means that there's more risks to public safety," he said. "There are still vehicles under recall with parts available for repairs that have not been fixed." In November, the NHTSA announced a record US$200 million (S$281 million) fine on Takata for providing inadequate and inaccurate information about the airbags and for failing to recall them quickly one they became aware of the problem.
The NHTSA demanded US$70 million in cash, with an additional US$130 million due if Takata fails to uphold an agreement, which includes meeting a schedule to recall all vehicles with defective airbags still on the roads.