Japan orders air bag maker to conduct probe

TOKYO - Japan's transport ministry said Friday it has ordered air bag maker Takata to conduct an internal investigation after cases of its air bags exploding triggered safety concerns in the U.S. and other countries.

The ministry also ordered Takata and Japanese automakers to study whether additional recalls are needed in Japan following a U.S. decision to expand recalls nationwide from an earlier measure limited to high-humidity zones.

Takata air bags can inflate with excessive force, sending metal shrapnel toward the driver and passengers. The problems have caused six deaths and dozens of injuries. Millions of cars have been recalled worldwide.

"We have been rigidly dealing with the case, for instance directly instructing Takata to investigate and provide explanation," Transport Minister Akihiro Ohta told a regular news conference.

"This is an extremely important issue involving automobile safety, and we must take utmost steps."

The ministry's direct instruction to an auto parts maker, rather than through automakers that use the parts, is a rare step here.

On Thursday, a Takata executive as well as a victim of the airbag defect testified before the Senate Commerce Committee.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Stephanie Erdman, who was injured in one eye when a defective airbag deployed in her car during a 2013 crash, excoriated the company behind that airbag and the automaker that manufactured her car, telling the committee that Takata and Honda had failed to protect consumers when they didn't provide sufficient warnings about a product defect.

Hiroshi Shimizu, who represented the company at Thursday's hearing, said Takata was "deeply sorry" for the reported instances of defective airbags causing injuries and fatalities.