Thanks to better airbag technology, increased use of seat belts, and more infant and children being placed in the back seat of automobiles, airbag-related injuries and deaths have continued to drop.
But while newer cars and trucks have the best airbag records, defective airbags have killed 264 people since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began keeping a record of airbag-related fatalities. And airbags continue to kill and injure people, even those in the newest automobile models.
In addition to frontal airbags, which inflate to prevent passengers from impacting the interior of the vehicle in a frontal crash, side-impact airbags have been introduced to help protect a passenger’s head and chest in a side-impact collision. Chest SABs are mounted in the door or in the side of the seat, and head SABs are typically mounted on the roof rail. SABs differ from frontal airbags in that in order to provide additional protection, they remain inflated for several seconds during the collision.
Most airbags deploy with varying strength depending on location and size of the occupants in the vehicle and whether they are wearing seat belts. Sensors that are built into passenger compartments determine the force of deployment. It is not uncommon, however, for airbags to detonate with over1200 pounds of force at speeds exceeding 230 miles per hour.
While this force often merely results in burns and bruises when an airbag deploys, it can also cause severe injuries such as blindness, or much too often in the case of children or small passengers, even death. Late airbag deployments also have the potential to cause serious injuries and fatalities. Late or unnecessary deployment by SABs with faulty designs can also cause serious injuries.
While the NHTSA estimates that airbags have saved nearly 20,000 lives, problems with airbags that continue to kill and injure people include:
- Untimely deployment – to work properly, an airbag must be fully inflated before making contact with the passenger. A faulty sensor or wiring system design can deploy an airbag at the wrong time
- Deployment in low-speed accidents – some older designs will deploy in a collision at seven to fifteen miles per hour, potentially causing injuries to an unsuspecting passenger. Most newer designs will deploy in collisions at fifteen to eighteen miles per hour
- Lack of tethers – these are straps sewn inside an airbag, which makes it inflate into a flatter pillow shape away from a passengers face. Older designs often lack these
- Horizontal inflation – some SABs inflate directly into the head of a child or shorter person rather than inflating vertically, which keeps the airbag clear of the passengers head
- Deployment with too much force
- Airbag inflates too slow
- Failure to deploy
Many manufacturers did not test their airbag systems with child-sized dummies, which could have prevented numerous smaller individuals from being injured or killed by defective airbag designs. And in order to cut production costs, other manufacturers were leaving some sensors out of their designs, causing the remaining sensors to be overly sensitive, resulting in premature deployments.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed you suspect was the result of a defective airbag, you should request a free evaluation by a competent product liability attorney who can help you determine if you are entitled to compensation. Call or email us today to find an automobile product liability attorney near you.