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Shrapnel-Shooting Airbags May Have Claimed First Houston Victim

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Last year, when the New York Times started to break stories about airbags exploding in cars, sending metal and plastic shrapnel into drivers that made them look like stabbing victims, the issue was particularly concerning to anyone living along the Gulf Coast.

As the recalls began to mushroom -- in the United States alone, ten automakers have now issued recalls on some 12 million vehicles that carry faulty airbag inflators from the Japanese company Takata -- the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began to issue targeted notices to humid regions in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana.

The problem, agency officials say, is that these faulty, shrapnel-shooting airbags are more likely to malfunction in humid climates. Prolonged exposure to high humidity can make the airbag inflator propellant burn too fast, officials say, causing the propellant canisters to blow apart, sending bits of metal and plastic into drivers.

And, according to senate testimony on Thursday, Houston may have seen its first victim this month.

Carlos Solis, 35, was driving his 2002 Honda Accord in Spring when he got into a low-speed crash and died on January 18. His 11-year-old cousin was in the car. County medical examiners listed Solis' cause of death as "blunt force injuries to the neck," according to a report from the Associated Press. Although it's still not clear exactly what caused Solis' neck injuries, according to U.S. Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Florida who briefed a senate committee on an inquiry into this whole airbags-that-shoot-shrapnel mess yesterday, Solis could very well be the sixth known victim of Takata's faulty airbags.

According to the AP, someone (presumably Solis) bought the 2002 Accord last April, and while Honda had sent the car's previous owner a recall notification letter in 2011, the company hadn't yet sent the new owner a recall warning.

In addition to a U.S. Senate inquiry, the NHTSA and the U.S. Justice Department are investigating whether Takata concealed information about the faulty airbag inflators. The agency has even asked current or former Takata employees to come forward with any information in exchange for legal protection.

If you're the type that ignores mail from your dealership or car companies, check out this handy list the Times compiled after the latest recall expansion to see if your car has an airbag recall.

Seriously. Do it now.

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