You’ve probably heard a lot of news recently about the problems that Takata air bags have caused, which have been linked to at least eight deaths and more than 100 injuries.

But, originally, air bags were invented to minimize the harm done to our bodies in a car accident. Every passenger car and light truck that has been built since September 1, 1998 contains air bags for the driver and right front passenger. The Department of Transportation estimates that the air bags used by those in the front seats of vehicles saved 37,000 lives between 1987 and 2012.

Let’s take a closer look at automotive air bags.

How Air Bags Work

Air bags are normally found in a vehicle’s steering wheel and dashboard and are designed to automatically inflate on impact during a collision. Automobile manufacturers have also added, over the years, side, curtain, and knee air bags, as well as seat belts that function like air bags for passengers in the rear seats.

Air bags, when triggered, open at over 200 mph. The operational mechanics of an air bag are as follows:

  1. When a vehicle strikes something, an accelerometer—a chip that measures acceleration, deceleration, and force—detects it and triggers the air bag circuit.
  2. The air bag sends electric current through a heating element, which ignites a chemical explosive.
  3. The burning explosive creates an enormous amount of gas that floods the bag.
  4. As the bag expands, it blows off its cover and inflates. Air bags are coated with talcum powder or something similar to make them expand smoothly. Only about 40 milliseconds are needed to fully inflate the air bag.
  5. Because of the vehicle’s impact, the person hits the bag. Pushing against the air bag makes it deflate as the gas escapes through tiny holes. The air bag should be deflated by the time the car stops.

When Air Bags Fail

As you might guess, the crash sensor (the accelerometer) is critical. The sensor should not malfunction and open the air bag while you are driving, as it has in one case when a man hit a pothole. On the other hand, the crash sensor must open the bag when an accident occurs.

The crash sensor can also malfunction by triggering the ignition of the chemical explosive late, meaning that the bag will not fully inflate. All of these scenarios can be responsible for serious injury.

The problem with the Takata air bags is different. In this situation, the air bag’s inflator has occasionally ignited too violently and ruptured, spraying metal shards throughout the passenger space, causing injuries and deaths.

A person’s size or position can also make them more likely to be injured by an air bag’s deployment. Because of their size, children under 12, and smaller adults who sit closer to the steering wheel, are especially at risk.

Common Air Bag-Related Injuries

Any triggering of an air bag, with its rapid opening, has the potential to cause injury. Some injuries are serious, some are not. Minor injuries include the following:

  • Abrasions or burns due to the air bag’s deployment speed
  • Bruising
  • Lacerations
  • Lung irritation caused by the chemicals released from a bag deployment. These same chemicals can also trigger a more serious and possibly deadly asthma attack in vulnerable people.

More severe air bag injuries include:

  • Facial and other fractures
  • Concussions
  • Eye trauma
  • Hearing loss
  • Internal injuries to organs
  • Internal bleeding
  • Scarring
  • Cardiac trauma.

A Word about the Takata Air Bag Recalls

Recently, Takata Corporation declared that 33.8 million vehicles have defective air bags, which will likely lead to the largest automobile recall in U.S. history. If you are concerned that your car might be one of the vehicles, you can look up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and read more about the recall and the vehicles involved here and here.

If it turns out that your car has been recalled, here are some suggestions:

  • If it is the passenger-side air bag that needs to be replaced, don’t let anyone sit in that seat until it is.
  • If it is the driver’s side air bag that needs to be replaced, while you are waiting for the proper part to arrive, consider minimizing your driving, carpooling, using public transportation, renting a car, or borrowing one.

How Can “The Injury Lawyer” Help You?

If you have been injured due to a defective air bag or air bag failure, call Baltimore personal injury attorney Steve Heisler. Keep in mind, however, that there is a statute of limitations – or a time limit – in Maryland for filing personal injury claims. If you have been injured in an air bag accident or have otherwise incurred a personal injury arising from a defective product, you should not delay. You can reach The Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler at (410) 625-4878, or by using the online contact form, to arrange a no-obligation, no-fee initial consultation.