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Concerns about automobile airbags lately have focused on ones that deploy too explosively or even spontaneously.

This week, General Motors announced a major recall over the opposite problem: airbags that, in rare instances, might not deploy when they are supposed to.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put a notice on its website on Thursday that the company would recall 4.3 million vehicles worldwide — including 3.6 million in the United States — to fix the problem, which has been linked to at least one death and three injuries.

The company formally announced the recall on Friday, and said the fix involved a quick software modification that could be done by dealers. Customers do not need to receive a recall notice first to have the upgrade done. G.M. did not say how much the recall could cost.

More notable may be how quickly G.M. and the government responded to the problem once the company became aware of it in mid-May.

G.M. wasn’t always so quick to remedy potential safety defects. It took a dozen years and at least 124 deaths before the company began to resolve a problem with an ignition switch that could cause cars to switch off while on the road, rendering their airbags inoperable.

Eventually, G.M. paid $900 million to settle a federal criminal investigation related to the faulty ignition switches, set aside $575 million for a fund to compensate victims of switch-related crashes, and recalled 2.6 million cars.

“I think G.M. learned its lesson from the ignition switch and changed its behavior,” Michelle Krebs, an analyst with the research site, said on Friday.


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