Drivers urged to fix recalled Takata airbags that can explode

Despite the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, millions of consumers are still driving with defective, potentially deadly, Takata airbags that need to be replaced and advocates in Los Angeles are trying to change that.

"We can't make consumers bring their cars in for repair, but their lives depend on them doing so," NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King told CBS Los Angeles.

How to determine you are on the Takata recall list

The recalled Takata airbags can be replaced for free. If you are unsure of whether your vehicle has been recalled, you should:

  1. Visit NHTSA.gov and search using your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The result will tell you if your car or truck is included in the recall.
  2. If your vehicle does have a recall, contact your local dealer to schedule the free repair. The NHTSA says for the very large Takata recall, a schedule has been created and parts are only available for certain vehicles starting at certain dates. 

How the Takata airbags malfunction

An airbag deploys in less than a second -- if the driver is wearing his or her seatbelt and the airbag deploys properly it shouldn't even come into bodily contact.

But the recalled airbags don't deploy -- they explode. The resulting force can send pieces of metal into the car and can be fatal. King explained that years of exposure to changing temperatures and humidity degraded the propellant, causing the airbags to malfunction.

The airbags have killed 15 people in recent years and injured thousands more. Around 34 million cars are still equipped with the defective Takata airbags.

California has the highest number of defective airbags. More than 2.5 million need to be repaired in the state, according to a report by the Airbag Recall advocacy group.

In Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida, there are nearly 459,000 vehicles with defective airbags.

CBS News' Jillian Harding contributed to this report.