The dangers of Takata airbags have been detailed in the news over the past couple of years. But it turns out that simply transporting airbag components can be just as dangerous. Specifically, we’re talking about the dangerous explosive compound made of ammonium nitrate that is assembled into the airbags. The compound is shipped across the U.S. more than 2,000 miles, from a plant in Washington State to a distribution center in Eagle Pass, Texas, just north of the Mexican border.
Why is transport of the explosive compound receiving attention now? It’s all because of a deadly accident during August, 2016, near Quemado, Texas, where a truck carrying such cargo crashed and caught fire. In the explosion that followed, a nearby house was destroyed, killing the woman inside it; four other persons in the area were also injured. The power of the blast was such that 10 additional homes were damaged, and debris was discovered almost a mile from the crash site. Both the driver and passenger were able to escape before the truck exploded. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the driver was speeding and, as a result, was not able to stay on the road while navigating a curve.
Transporting this explosive airbag propellant compound is so hazardous that the truck’s drivers must wear fire-resistant clothing, rubber-soled, steel-toed boots, helmets, and safety goggles. The journey normally takes 36 hours, and two drivers must be on board for the trip. The transport of airbags and some of their components, it turns out, means the shipments are considered hazmat (hazardous materials), and as such are a risk to others. Proper precautions must be taken, with additional federal requirements put on the trucking companies that carry hazmat.
This crash was a horrible tragedy, and we might let the story go here as an example of one more way in which the Takata airbags cause problems, except for two additional twists in the story:
- The company running the truck in the accident, Industrial Transit Inc. from LaGrange, Georgia, turns out to have a record of serious safety violations, according to the FMCSA. The agency ordered the trucking outfit to immediately stop all operations, calling the company “an imminent hazard to public safety.” Major safety defects were found in a number of Industrial Transit’s trucks. Employees were also not appropriately tested for drugs and alcohol, which is a requirement for transporting hazmat. (The trucking company is a subcontractor and not part of Takata Corporation.)
- Hazmat cargo causes dangers on our roads, with 800,000 such shipments being carried by trucks daily. That’s about 4.2 percent of all trucks that are hauling hazmat. While the number of hazmat loads may seem small, the incidence of crash risks is higher than with other cargo. Hazmat has a 14 percent chance of catching fire in a crash, as opposed to 4 percent in non-hazmat crashes. Additionally, some hazmat loads cause danger to persons not in the immediate area through the release of toxic gases, liquids, and other materials. Every year, hazmat trucks are involved in about 200 fatal crashes and 5,000 nonfatal crashes.
Hazmat trucks are supposed to be operated under stringent federal regulations which require proper signage about the load carried and the hazards it poses. Whether the truck in the Takata airbag explosive compound crash carried proper signage or was in compliance with other federal hazmat regulations is unknown at this time. But, considering the risks to us all, such loads need further scrutiny. It is entirely possible that our current set of regulations is not sufficient to address the dangers.
When life goes wrong, we fight for what’s right.
The Louthian Law Firm has represented injured South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. With our firm on the case, you can rest assured that you’ll receive the personalized attention you deserve. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured by an airbag failure or in any kind of auto accident, it’s important to make sure that you understand your legal rights. Defective auto cases require a thorough investigation by an experienced legal team to determine which individuals and companies should be named as defendants and which legal theories should be pursued. South Carolina law can be complex, and there is a deadline for filing a claim. The initial consultation is always free, so reach out to us today by calling us at 1-803-454-1200. If you prefer, you can fill out our online contact form.