CBS4 Investigation: Lexus Airbag Safety Concerns

FT. LAUDERDALE (CBS4) - We've come to rely on airbags to protect us in an accident They are standard equipment on just about every new car on the market,

But CBS4 reporter David Sutta found in one case, drivers of a specific Lexus may not be as safe as they think because of an alleged flaw in the airbag system that sometimes disables it.

A class action suit has been filed in Broward County demanding that the car be recalled.

Artie Rosen, of Boca Raton, told Sutta he first noticed the front passenger side airbag system of his 2007 Lexus ES 350 shut itself off about a year ago despite the fact that his wife was in the seat.

"You're driving down I-95 and all of the sudden it's on and all the sudden it goes off," said Rosen. "You just pray that you don't have an accident in that time period. I told my wife she has to sit in the back."

Rosen said when he realized it wasn't just his car doing this, but his wife's too, he went to the Lexus dealership for some answers.

"I've been there over 11 times and they came to my house quite a few times with engineers," said Rosen, "and it still doesn't work. They don't know what's wrong."

Broward attorney Scott Schlesinger, who filed the class action suit against Toyota, said once word got out that he was working on this matter potential clients lined up to have their Lexus ES 350s tested by an engineer he had hired.

"So far each car that we've tested shows the same problem," said Schlesinger.

Schlesinger says according to Toyota's own literature, the Lexus ES 350 includes an upgraded airbag system that weighs passengers; a sensor in the seat is supposed to activate the air bag system if it detects more than 104 pounds.

In Rosen's car, engineers found his airbag system did not turn on until the sensor detected 127 pounds in the passenger seat.

"It's very scary," said Rosen, "you think you have protection and you don't."

Three weeks ago, Toyota issued an internal memo informing their service departments of the problem and instructed them to make the airbag weight sensors more sensitive. It also instructs them to only make the repair "based upon a customer's specific complaint."

"I don't get the sense that they are ready yet to fully acknowledge that it is a problem," said Schlesinger, "I think it's something they are hoping will go away."

In response to this CBS4 Investigation Toyota provided a written response which said "Lexus stands fully behind the design and performance of its front passenger airbag system" and it "meets or exceeds federal motor vehicle safety standards."

In the statement, Toyota also advises that if the airbag system malfunctions, owners should bring their vehicles to a dealership which will "modify the system."

Schlesinger doesn't think that's enough since a person's safety is based on them noticing a single light.

"I hope we can get them to recall the car and fix the car," said Schlesinger. "(They need to) send a letter out and let everybody know, 70-thousand owners of these vehicles that 'hey we've got a problem and we're working on a fix."

For its part, Lexus doesn't think the weight test is fair. They say the computer that controls the airbag system uses more than weight to determine if the system should be enabled or disabled.

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