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Chrysler-parent air bag crash deaths prompt U.S. alert

FILE PHOTO: Stellantis logo on a company's building in Velizy-Villacoublay near Paris

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Chrysler-parent Stellantis on Thursday urged owners of 276,000 older U.S. vehicles to immediately stop driving after three crash deaths tied to faulty Takata air bag inflators were reported in the last seven months.

The "Do Not Drive" warning is for owners of previously recalled 2005 to 2010 Dodge Magnum station wagons, Dodge Challenger coupes, and Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans who have not yet addressed Takata driver-side air-bag recalls.

Stellantis said replacement driver-side air bags have been available for the vehicles subject to the stop driving notice since 2015. The automaker also disclosed it had reports of 20 injuries but did not specify the timeframe.

More than 30 deaths worldwide - including at least 22 U.S. fatalities - and hundreds of injuries in various automakers' vehicles since 2009 are linked to Takata air bag inflators that can explode, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a consumer alert advising people of Stellantis "Do Not Drive" warning.

The auto safety agency said the Takata recalls were spurred by propellant that could break down after long-term exposure to high-temperature fluctuations and humidity.

"Left unrepaired, recalled Takata air bags are increasingly dangerous as the risk of an explosion rises as vehicles age,” said Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson.

Stellantis said it had made more than 150 total contact attempts to convince vehicle owners involved in the three fatal crashes to complete recall repairs.

Most of the deaths reported have been in Honda Motor vehicles.

NHTSA said on Thursday it had confirmed two people died in separate crashes involving 2010 Dodge Chargers where the Takata driver’s side air bags exploded. Stellantis said a Takata air bag was suspected in a recent third death also in a 2010 Charger. All were in warm weather U.S. states.

NHTSA said it was aware of several other suspected inflator ruptures in vehicles from other automakers potentially due to exploding Takata air bags. There have been more than 400 U.S. injuries reported tied to Takata air bags.

Over the last decade, more than 67 million Takata air bag inflators have been recalled in the United States and more than 100 million worldwide, in the biggest auto safety callback in history.

Last year, NHTSA opened a probe into 30 million vehicles built by nearly two dozen automakers that have potentially defective Takata air bag inflators.

The 30 million vehicles that are part of the 2021 investigation have inflators with a "desiccant" or drying agent. The vehicles subject to the "Do Not Drive" notice do not have the drying agent.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Mark Potter and Josie Kao)