SUGAR LAND — Community members, federal officials, and automakers launched a new effort Wednesday to warn Fort Bend County drivers who could have defective Takata airbags.
The Houston-area was chosen for “Operation Find & Fix” because its prolonged heat and humidity cause the airbags to degrade faster, officials said. Southern California and South Florida are already included in the effort.
"This is a full community engagement blast effort that will include knocking on doors,” said Heidi King, Deputy Administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during a news conference Wednesday morning in front of Sugar Land City Hall. “It'll include checking cars that may be parked on the street.”
Chris Preston, City Council Member At-Large Position 2 for Missouri City, said the operation would also include setting up booths, running scoreboard ads, and checking vehicles at high school football games, along with partnering with local auto body shops to check on vehicles under service.
The nationwide Takata airbag recall that began in 2015 has grown to include 19 automakers and roughly 37 million vehicles.
In the Houston area, 485,000 of the 991,000 known deflective inflators still need to be repaired. In Sugar Land and Missouri City alone, tens of thousands of drivers still have the faulty airbags.
Those airbag inflators, which can explode sharp metal fragments when there's a crash, have killed 15 people nationwide, including two in the Houston area, and seriously injured 220 people.
Faizan Hanif’s 17-year-old sister, Huma, was killed by shrapnel from a Takata airbag during a 2016 fender-bender near Richmond.
"It is very hard to lose someone, and I don't want anyone else to go through with this,” said Hanif.
Hanif describes his sister, a George Ranch High School student and aspiring nurse, as joyful.
"Her mentality like that was to help people, and especially my parents,” said Hanif.
Hanif and Sgt. Danny Beckworth of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, who responded to Huma Hanif’s wreck, urged people to check their vehicle’s status.
"This is a death that is senseless,” said Sgt. Beckworth. “It should never have happened.”
Under law, manufacturers are required to fix the defective airbags for free. However, many drivers have been forced to wait for months because of a limited supply of replacement parts.
"In order to save lives and prevent injuries, the recall prioritizes the highest risk vehicles first,” said King. “For those highest risk vehicles, there are supplies available today."
King said fixing all defective airbags will take years, and newer cars that haven't been exposed to prolonged heat and humidity are lower priority.
To see if a vehicle falls under the recall, click here. Drivers without Internet access can call a nearby dealership.