Houston automobile owners urged to fix dangerous airbags

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Houston leaders urge drivers to check their airbags.

More than a quarter of a million Houstonians are driving cars and trucks with defective airbag inflators.

On Tuesday, community leaders made a public push to the owners of those vehicles to start the process of getting them fixed.

Already two of the 10 people who authorities say died from faulty airbags were from the Houston area.

Among them was 17-year-old Uma Haneef, who was killed from exploding shrapnel from the airbag in her car after a minor collision.

VIDEO: Fort Bend County officials address teen's airbag death

Hot, humid climates like Houston's seem to be especially susceptible to the failures.

And older cars -- which so many Houstonians drive -- are at higher risk.

"There are thousands of defective airbags in Houston, in cars, in trucks, that need to be urgently removed from those vehicles to save lives," said John Buretta, an independent monitor of the car parts manufacturer Takata.

Takata airbag problems first surfaced two years ago, but it has reached a serious enough point that city and community leaders have begun a new initiative to get Houstonians to fix their cars and trucks.

"We don't want to be the number one city where people are losing their lives because of defective airbags," Houston City Council member Ellen Cohen said.

Some models don't yet have replacement parts or they are in short supply. That should not deter car and truck owners from finding out if their vehicle is impacted, and if so, what to do about it, according to highway safety authorities.

"We are working to get the most serious vehicles' airbag inflators replaced first," said Georgia Chakiris, the NHTSA regional administrator.

We decided to try the system ourselves.

We took our Eyewitness News SUV, recorded the vehicle identification number and entered it into the federal recall website Saferscars.gov. We found no problem. But Ford also offered additional information with a single click. If we had been part of the recall we would then call a dealer.

"They need to contact their dealer," said W.C. Smith of Monument Chevrolet. "Any franchise dealer for that make, and then give them the process," Smith said. "In some cases parts are available. In some cases they are not, and then you can schedule an appointment, and come in and see the dealer and get that repair taken care of free of charge."

There is new concern for older vehicles, which are predominant in minority communities. That is why Tuesday's coordinated effort is all the more important as we enter the hottest, most humid months of the summer. It's when the recalled, dangerous airbags may be at their most vulnerable.

NHTSA is working with Uber to provide free and discounted rides for people who don't have the use of their car while it's being fixed.

They acknowledge this is not a perfect system. But they urge drivers to begin the process immediately.

PHOTOS: Ft. Bend Co. officials talk teen's airbag death

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