Jan 22, 2020 8:00 AM

Air bag woes force Honda, Toyota to recall 6M vehicles

Posted Jan 22, 2020 8:00 AM

DETROIT (AP) — Two different air bag glitches have forced Toyota and Honda to recall over 6 million vehicles worldwide, and both problems present different dangers to motorists.

The Toyota recall affects about 3.4 million vehicles globally and is being done because the air bags may not inflate in a crash. The cars have air bag control computers made by ZF-TRW that are vulnerable to electrical interference and may not signal the bags to inflate.

The problem could affect as many as 12.3 million vehicles in the U.S. made by six companies. It’s possible that as many as eight people were killed when air bags didn’t inflate. U.S. safety regulators are investigating.

Honda’s recall covers about 2.7 million vehicles in the U.S. and Canada with Takata air bag inflators. But they’re a different version than the ones blamed for 25 deaths worldwide. Still, it’s possible the air bags could blow apart a metal canister and hurl shrapnel at drivers and passengers.

Both recalls were announced on Tuesday.

In a statement, Toyota said the computer may not have adequate protection against electrical noise that can happen in crashes, such as when the vehicle runs under a different vehicle. The problem can cause incomplete opening of the air bags, or they may not open at all. Devices that prepare seat belts for a collision also may not work.

In most cases Toyota dealers will install a noise filter between the air bag control computer and a wiring harness. But in some vehicles dealers will inspect the computer to determine if it needs the filter. Owners will be notified by mid-March.

The recall covers certain 2011-2019 Corollas, the 2011 to 2013 Matrix, the 2012 through 2018 Avalon and the 2013 to 2018 Avalon Hybrid in the U.S.

Toyota wouldn’t say if it will offer loaner cars to people who fear their air bags might not protect them. A spokeswoman suggested that owners call its customer hotline to discuss their issue at (800) 331-4331.

In March of 2017, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating problems with ZF-TRW air bag computers. The probe was expanded in April of last year to 12.3 million vehicles made by Toyota, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Fiat Chrysler from the 2010 through 2019 model years.

Toyota joins Hyundai, Kia and Fiat Chrysler in issuing recalls for the problem. Four deaths that may have been caused by the problem were reported in Hyundai-Kia vehicles and three in Fiat Chrysler automobiles. The investigation was upgraded after investigators found two serious crashes involving 2018 and 2019 Toyota Corollas in which the air bags did not inflate. One person was killed. Toyota said it’s cooperating in the probe, which is continuing.

NHTSA is evaluation how susceptible the air bag control units are to electrical signals as well as other factors that could stop air bags from inflating. In documents, the agency said that it didn’t find any other cases of electrical interference in Hyundai, Kia or Fiat Chrysler vehicles that used the ZF-TRW system but were not recalled.

ZF-TRW said Tuesday it continues to cooperate with the NHTSA investigation.

The Honda recall covers certain Honda and Acura vehicles from the 1996 to 2003 model years. Honda vehicles included are the 1998 to 2000 Accord Coupe and Sedan, the 1996 to 2000 Civic coupe and sedan, the 1997 to 2001 CR-V, the 1998 to 2001 Odyssey and the 1997 and 1998 EV Plus.

Acura vehicles covered are the 1997 and 1998 2.2CL, the 1997 to 1999 3.0CL, the 1998 and 1999 2.3CL, the 2001 and 2002 3.2CL, the 2001 and 2002 MDX, the 1998 to 2003 3.5RL, and the 1999 to 2001 3.2TL.

The front driver’s inflators being recalled are part of a recall announced by Takata in November covering at least 1.4 million vehicles from five automakers. Honda said it’s recalling a larger number of vehicles to make sure it gets all of the bad inflators.

In this case, the inflators don’t contain ammonium nitrate, which is blamed for previous Takata problems that have killed 25 people and injured hundreds worldwide.

But three of the newly recalled inflators exploded and hurled shrapnel, two in Japan and one in Texas that injured a driver, Honda said in a statement. The company said in all three cases, the inflators were exposed to excessive moisture. In Texas, the car had a salvage title with a date that coincided with a major flood, while the two cases in Japan were in salvage yards where the windows are typically left open, the company said.

“Honda believes that the risk of improper air bag deployment in its vehicles remains very low at this time, but we cannot absolutely guarantee the performance of any recalled part,” the company said in a statement.

Owners will be notified in mid-March, but replacement parts won’t be available for another year, Honda said.

For the most up to date information surrounding recalls visit nhtsa.gov/recalls. For any additional questions, customer support is also available by calling the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331 or the Lexus Guest Experience Center at 1-800-255-3987.

CORRECTED, 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to reflect correct customer support telephone number.

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Jan 22, 2020 8:00 AM
GOP right looks to put own mark on Kansas Medicaid expansion
On January 10, Governor Laura Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning announce the compromise proposal for Medicaid expansion in Kansas

By John Hanna

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Republican lawmakers are looking to modify a bipartisan plan for expanding Medicaid in Kansas by adding two provisions that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly opposes.

GOP conservatives want to insert a work requirement for able-bodied adults who receive the state's Medicaid health coverage under the expanded program. They're also looking to add a “right of conscience” provision that would allow medical personnel to decline for religious reasons to provide services such as abortion, birth control and gender reassignment care.

The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee will consider those ideas when it debates a bill containing the bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan, Chairman Gene Suellentrop said Tuesday. The measure arises from a compromise Kelly reached earlier this month with Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican.

“We're just expressing concerns and using amendments to address some of those issues,” said Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican.

The Senate health committee plans to begin hearings on the bipartisan plan Thursday and could debate the bill Feb. 4.

The deal gives Kelly the straightforward expansion of state health coverage that she has advocated to cover as many as 150,000 additional people. Denning would receive a modified version of his proposal to create a new program designed to hold down private health insurance premiums to make it less likely that people would drop their existing private plans in favor of Medicaid.

Denning was among a handful of conservative GOP leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature who last year kept an expansion plan favored by Kelly from passing the Senate. They cited how a plan would be administered and its potential expense to the state, despite the federal government's promise to pay 90% of the costs.

The deal appeared to clear the way for Kansas to become the 37th state to expand Medicaid. The bill is sponsored by 22 of the Senate's 40 members, enough to pass it there, but Sullentrop is not one of them, and his oversight of work on the bill in committee could complicate efforts to get a “clean” bill through the Legislature.

Supporters worry that if conservatives are successful, Kelly will be forced either to accept provisions she believes would hamstring expansion or veto a bill.

Critics of the “conscience” provision see it as allowing anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care. On her second day in office last year, Kelly issued an order banning such bias in state hiring and employment decisions.

“Patients come in with complex issues, life circumstances, and so its really incumbent on those physicians to help patients navigate that instead of saying, ‘Well, what you’re wanting doesn't quite fit my own narrow ideology,'” said Julie Burkhart, CEO of the abortion rights Trust Women Foundation. “I just don't see how people get good health care that way.”

Kelly also opposes a work requirement for Medicaid participants, seeing it likely only to kick people off of coverage.

"Gov. Kelly opposes any proposal that would increase administrative barriers, limiting access to health care,” Kelly spokeswoman Lauren Fitzgerald said in an email.

Denning said he'd prefer to have conservatives' proposals debated by the full Senate rather than in committee so “we could vote in a transparent manner.”

The bipartisan plan contains what Kelly and Denning describe as a “robust” work referral program for Medicaid participants, to help them find jobs.

“It has a pathway to work, and I prefer that,” said Sen. Ed Berger, a Hutchinson Republican and one of the bill's sponsor, saying a tougher provision only would be “denying them services.”

But for conservatives a work referral program isn't strong enough to encourage Medicaid participants become self-sufficient by looking for work or participating in job training. The state imposed work requirements for its cash and food assistance programs during former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's tenure with strong backing from GOP lawmakers.

“Work requirements are more broadly popular than Medicaid expansion,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican who serves on the Senate health committee. “That's really just a common sense of fairness.”

Masterson also said protecting the conscience rights of medical providers also is “broadly accepted.”

“You shouldn't be obligated to do something you object to,” he said. “I don't understand why anybody would back forcing somebody to do a procedure that's controversial when you have so many other options.”