US safety regulators warn of risk from newer side bags in Volkswagen and GM models

Federal safety regulators say newer side airbags in some Volkswagen and General Motors models might rupture violently, just like the older front airbags that had led to recalls of 19 million cars made by 12 automakers.

At a briefing on Thursday, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Mark Rosekind, said it was not yet known how many vehicles could be affected, though, the agency's investigation had been expanded to include newer airbags and side airbags.

The problem with the Takata inflaters was their tendency to rupture violently, spewing small, shrapnel-like pieces of metal into the passenger compartment. At least eight deaths in addition to hundreds of injuries had been attributed to the problem.

The investigation started to expand over the summer when a Takata side airbag in a 2015 VW Tiguan ruptured.

General Motors, last week, recalled around 400 cars after Takata said the side airbags used in the affected models had failed its safety tests.

According to NHTSA officials, their investigation does not include all Takata inflaters that used ammonium nitrate as a propellant.

NHTSA officials said there had been eight deaths and 98 injuries in the US due to faulty airbags. The officials added car owners needed to immediately check air bags manufactured by Takata Corp and swiftly seek proper repairs so they could avoid the high risk of injury due to exploding air bags.

According to NHTSA the high number of injuries was due to exploding inflators triggering with strong force that could expel shrapnel at drivers and even passengers, according to the Associated Press.

All the eight deaths happened in Honda vehicles, but the NHTSA was expanding the air bag death and accidents investigation to other vehicle brands, such as General Motors and Volkswagen.

Though regulators had not yet been able to identify what caused the airbags to explode, they suspect rising temperatures might have something to do with the issue.

They had observed that air bags in cars exposed to hot climates for a minimum of five years were more prone to exploding. Thus, they had suggested that weather conditions should be factored into as an element in airbag failure, USA Today reported.