Despite recalls, defective airbags still in U.S. cars

Stephanie Erdman's life changed forever in September of last year.

The Florida woman was involved in a collision in a Honda Civic.

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Stephanie Erdman's Honda Civic
Stephanie Erdman

Instead of an airbag saving her, it nearly killed her.

"There was instant blindness on my right side followed by gushing blood" says Erdman. "It was terrifying. I thought I was going to bleed out at first and I couldn't even look in the mirror. I didn't want to look."

The airbag exploded and sent shrapnel into her face.

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The airbag in Stephanie Erdman's car nearly killed her instead of saving her.
Stephanie Erdman

Two people have died -- an 18 year old in Oklahoma and a mother of three in Virginia -- when the airbags did not perform as designed.

A coroner's report in California links a third death.

A government database shows more than 100 people have reported being hurt. All from airbags manufactured by the Takata Corporation of Japan.

More than 11 million cars have been ordered back because of the potentially deadly airbag malfunction. Safety advocates, and those who've been affected, say the number should be far higher.

Clarence Ditlow leads the Center for Auto Safety.

"This is one of the deadliest defects that we have ever seen," says Ditlow. "Yet 10 years later we are just beginning to get to the bottom of it."

Documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, show Honda, the biggest buyer of Takata airbags, first learned about an exploding airbag in 2004. They recalled about 4,000 cars in 2008. The recalls have now reached 11 million vehicles.

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Nine car makers are currently included, but the recalls are mostly regional, covering up to nine states and two U.S. territories.

That's because Takata believes the explosions are more likely to happen in humid climates, when moisture gets into the system.

"How in the world can you approve a geographic recall that doesn't include the two states where people have been killed?" says Ditlow

In a statement to CBS News, Takata says: "We fully recognize that one incident is one too many, which is why our products are subject to extensive testing. We are constantly investing in and examining ways to improve our products."

Stephanie Erdman has spent the past year, helped by her father and sister, in and out of reconstructive surgeries.

"They try to be strong for me and I see it," says Erdman. "And they're supportive, but you can tell every time I talk about it, that it hurts them."

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Stephanie Erdman
CBS News

Erdman told us she's suing Honda -- Honda wouldn't comment on her case but old us: "Our hearts and sympathies go out to the individuals and families who have been affected. If a recall is necessary, we act swiftly and without hesitation."

The other car makers say they're following the recommendations of NHTSA.