Airbags have probably been the most significant car safety device to be developed since the invention of seat belts, however even though they can provide significant protection against major injury, they can also cause injuries both when they work as intended and when they don’t. Airbags first began appearing in passenger vehicles in the 1970s, with driver airbags becoming common by the early 1990s, and with vehicles of today now often including both driver and front passenger airbags to protect against impacts from the front and side torso and side curtain airbags to protect against collisions from the sides and rollovers.
In order to protect a vehicle occupant from serious injury in a collision, an airbag must react with an equivalent significant force — it does this by exploding a pyrotechnic device that rapidly and forcefully fills the bag with gas. Some systems are smart enough to detect the severity of an impact and “explode” the airbag with just enough force to provide protection, but most systems — especially older ones — simply inflate the bag to its fullest. And in the United States, design standards require a more forceful bag inflation than do international standards.
Types of Injuries from Airbags
Even when they are functioning as intended, airbags can sometimes cause very severe injuries or even death. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed more than 170 deaths from airbags in the United States during the 1990s, with most of these occuring in children and many of the remainder occurring in small adults. These occupants were the most likely to suffer injury from bag deployment due to their small size. This has since resulted in the development of passenger seat sensors that can detect the weight of a passenger to help judge whether or not to deploy the passenger side airbag. Other vehicles may have manual switches to turn the passenger side airbag on and off depending upon its occupant. Also, product design guidelines and regulations now mandate the placement of children and child safety seats in the rear seats of vehicles.
Severe injuries from airbags have most commonly been head injuries, though side airbags can also cause injury to occupants who may be leaning against a door when its bag deploys. Less severe injuries injuries from airbags have tended to be facial injuries from the impact force of the bag, and hand and wrist injuries to drivers gripping a steering wheel whose bag deploys.
After an airbag is deployed, the vehicle and its occupants may find themselves covered in dust — this is usually composed of talcum powder, chalk, and/or cornstarch which including the airbag to lubricate it during its inflation. Ordinarily, these substances are at most minor irritants to vehicle occupants, however some people with asthma or specific allergies may suffer a severe reaction to them.
Injuries from Airbags Improperly Deploying
More recently in the news, however, have been incidents where injuries from airbags have occurred due to the unintended deployment of airbags. A major international manufacturer of airbags and the numerous auto manufacturers to which it supplies airbag systems has been forced recently to issue recalls affecting millions of vehicles, especially those that have been operated in hot, humid conditions that may have caused the inflator mechanisms to degree and spontaneously trigger. In addition to the types of injuries that could normally result from an airbag inflating, these types of unexpected triggerings can obviously themselves cause serious motor vehicle collisions.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in a car accident — including any injuries from airbags — call me now at 916.921.6400.