The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA) claims that airbags have come a long way since the 1980s. New technological specifications can help determine when an airbag needs to deploy, how much force it needs to exert, and when to deflate. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been saved from serious injuries.
However, although airbags are designed to protect drivers and passengers, malfunctions and defects have been known to actually cause severe damage. According to the NHTSA, airbag accidents were responsible for countless injuries and over 284 deaths—including 180 children—in the past 15 years.
How is this possible? Aren’t airbags regulated for safety? How can a protective device actually cause harm?
Injury Causes From Defective Airbags
Airbags are designed to keep drivers safe from slamming their heads on the steering column. However, sometimes changing materials, miscalculations, and faulty wiring can cause protective airbags to become dangerous—even fatally dangerous. Some examples of how common injuries occur are as follows:
- Burns. Airbags inflate due to a tiny explosion (instigated by a signal during impact) which produces hot nitrogen gas. This gas then fills the nylon bag causing it to rapidly inflate. However, if for any reason the nylon bag is torn, or pops, the searing nitrogen gas will be expelled directly onto the driver.
- Blindness. In addition to nitrogen gas burning drivers’ eyes, the force of an airbag could cause drivers wearing glasses to become blinded as pieces of their eyewear becomes forcefully lodged into their eyes. As in the case of the Takata airbags, defective explosions could also cause shrapnel to blind drivers as well.
- Hearing loss. The force of the inflation explosion could cause pressure issues in the inner ear, causing permanent hearing loss.
- Broken bones. Airbags deploy at an excess of 200 mph and can exert enough force to easily break a bone. If the explosion causes even more force to be expelled, the driver runs the risk of fracturing facial bones, vertebrae (neck), and bones throughout his torso.
- Damaged ribcage. Since the steering column and airbag is positioned directly in front of the driver’s ribcage, the impact force of the bag dissipates into his chest. This force can easily snap and compress ribs.
- Asthmatic attacks. Broken ribs can penetrate, compress, or cut lung tissue causing breathing issues. In addition, if the powder used to prevent an airbag from sticking to itself is too excessive, then it can be released during inflation. Once the powder is released, drivers will ultimately inhale it, and those who suffer from asthma could have a fatal reaction.
- Lacerations and penetrations. As with the Takata recall, defective inflators can cause an explosion that propels pieces of metal toward the driver at frightening speeds. This can not only cause massive lacerations, but the debris can become lodged in the driver, similar to a bullet. Less severe lacerations can also occur if the bag doesn’t inflate fully, or deflates too quickly and the driver smashes his head on the steering wheel.
- Miscarriages (pregnant victims). Although pregnant women in their third trimester shouldn’t be driving, if they do, airbags can be a serious threat to their unborn child. The bag inflates with the force of 200 mph and five pounds of pressure per square inch, and is directly positioned at the same level as the baby. Although the driver’s body will protect the baby a little, that much force could potentially put him at risk of getting compressed and killed.
- Brain and spinal injuries. If the force of the inflation is too great, it could cause the driver’s head to be rocketed backward, potentially tearing neck muscles, dislocating his neck and spine, and causing his brain to collide against his skull—all of which can result in permanent damage or even death.
What Do You Think?
Given the potential risks involved, do you think airbags are as safe as they should be? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Do you think manufacturers should have steeper guidelines and better defective testing?
Let us know your thoughts by leaving your opinions and questions in the comment section. Not only will you help us learn more about societal opinions, but your experiences could also help our clients get the extra knowledge, reassurance, and support they need after a horrific accident.
Need more information about defective airbags and legal pursuits? Contact us today for a free consultation, or like us on Facebook for periodic updates.