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Selling counterfeit airbags would become a crime under House bill

by caprecord

A bill that would criminalize the modification, sale and distribution of counterfeit vehicle airbags was heard on Wednesday in the House Public Safety committee. Watch TVW’s webcast here.

Selling counterfeit airbags under House Bill 2314 could result in a maximum fine of $10,000, plus up to five years in jail. The bill also changes the definition of “airbag.”

Rep. Roger Goodman, D- Kirkland, is the prime sponsor of the bill.

“This could be deadly,” he said. “We want to hold accountable those who are trying to profit from the installation of these counterfeit airbags.”

There is a “tremendous market” for counterfeit airbags in the United States, according to Steve Osborn, Assistant Vice President of Parts, Service and Technical Operations at Honda.

A real airbag sells for $600 to $900. Counterfeits are made in China for $30 and sold on eBay for $100 to $150, he said.

Osborn told the committee that Honda didn’t know about the issue until 2010, when the federal government brought it to their attention. He said that 16 arrests have been made at the federal level. Of those 16, six arrests have been in the state of Washington.

Counterfeit airbags don’t actually contain a bag. Osborn passed around an example to the committee. It was stuffed with Styrofoam and the inflator — the explosive charge that causes the airbag to deploy — was placed on top. He said they’ve found sawdust, putty and garbage bags stuffed in counterfeits airbags. They are just “nasty,” Osborn said.

Counterfeit bags are different from salvaged bags — counterfeits have already been deployed and salvaged have not.

A similar bill criminalizing counterfeit airbags has been passed in 10 states.

Osborn said Honda’s goal in each state where the bill is passed is to change the definition of airbag to “an inflatable restraint system including cover, sensors, controllers, inflators, and wiring.”

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, raised questions about language in the bill that makes it a crime if a person “reasonably should have known” that an airbag he or she is installing or offering for sale is counterfeit, nonfunctional or previously deployed.


“I know a lot of people work on their own cars and they wouldn’t be knowledgeable in this,” Appleton said.

“That’s not the kind of person that this bill deals with,” Osborn replied. “I would argue that if it’s a dealership or an independent shop or someone who has ever install an airbag, they know that the box comes with warnings all over it and DOT hazmat stickers and they know that it would have only come from an auto dealer or a legitimate salvage yard – those are the only two options.”

Gary Smith represents several dozen automotive recyclers that sell salvaged airbags. He said the recyclers are concerned about the terms “reasonable” and “nonfunctional.” He says that there’s no real way for them to tell if it’s functional or not.

“How do we know if the airbag is going to work or not? You can only determine if the airbag works if the light goes on and then off,” he said.

He says that if this bill was solely limited to the counterfeit and hoax airbag, “we have no problem.” But rather he believes it raises the “questionability of the merchantability” of the airbags that auto recyclers sell.

Patricia Fulton of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also raised concerned about the language of the bill.

“The goal of this bill really seems to go after the ‘big fish,” those who are trying to profit from the fraudulent installation of these airbags, not the young naive mechanic that’s working at the neighborhood shop and doesn’t really know what he’s doing,” Fulton said.

She said her concern really focuses on the term “reasonably should have know.”

“That’s risky and you create this broad net,” she said.

She suggests that there needs to be more specific language that creates an exception for the “young naive mechanic” or the employee that doesn’t have a lot of choices and maybe doesn’t know where the parts come from.

The committee took no action on the bill Wednesday.