You’ve probably heard a lot of news recently about the problems that Takata airbags have caused, which have been linked to at least eight deaths and more than 100 injuries.
But, originally, airbags 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 airbags for the driver and right front passenger. The Department of Transportation estimates that the airbags 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 airbags.
How Airbags Work
Airbags 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 airbags, as well as seat belts that function like airbags for passengers in the rear seats.
Airbags, when triggered, open at over 200 mph. The operational mechanics of an airbag are as follows:
- When a vehicle strikes something, an accelerometer—a chip that measures acceleration, deceleration, and force—detects it and triggers the airbag circuit.
- The airbag sends electric current through a heating element, which ignites a chemical explosive.
- The burning explosive creates an enormous amount of gas that floods the bag.
- As the bag expands, it blows off its cover and inflates. Airbags are coated with talcum powder or something similar to make them expand smoothly. Only about 40 milliseconds are needed to fully inflate the airbag.
- Because of the vehicle’s impact, the person hits the bag. Pushing against the airbag makes it deflate as the gas escapes through tiny holes. The airbag should be deflated by the time the car stops.
When Airbags Fail
As you might guess, the crash sensor (the accelerometer) is critical. The sensor should not malfunction and open the airbag 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 airbags is different. In this situation, the airbag’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 airbag’s deployment. Because of their size, children under 12, and smaller adults who sit closer to the steering wheel, are especially at risk.
Common Airbag-Related Injuries
Any triggering of an airbag, 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 airbag’s deployment speed
- 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 airbag injuries include:
- Facial and other fractures
- Eye trauma
- Hearing loss
- Internal injuries to organs
- Internal bleeding
- Cardiac trauma.
A Word about the Takata Airbag Recalls
Recently, Takata Corporation declared that 33.8 million vehicles have defective airbags, 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 airbag that needs to be replaced, don’t let anyone sit in that seat until it is.
- If it is the driver’s side airbag 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 airbag or airbag 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 airbag 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.
Attorney Steve Heisler
Steve Heisler decided in 1996 that he was going to focus his law practice exclusively on injury cases. Since then, he has been representing injured people against insurance companies, disreputable medical practitioners and Big Pharma, and doing it with compassion, honesty and level-headed rationality. [ Attorney Bio ]