Airbags are one of the most important safety features included in modern vehicles. But for most drivers, airbags are a mystery. Why have so many airbags been recalled? How can a safety feature also be a danger?
Below, the DeMayo Law Offices will help clear up the confusion and provide important safety information about airbags.
Airbag Recalls: By the Numbers
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history” involves airbags.
Nineteen different automakers are currently recalling millions of vehicles installed with Takata airbags—so far, there have been at least 15 related deaths and hundreds of reported injuries.
The recall affects several car brands including Acura, BMW, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Infinity, Lexus, Nissan, and Jeep, just to name a few. Fifty million defective Takata airbags are under recall.
Specifically, airbags manufactured with an ammonium nitrate-based propellant without a chemical drying agent have been recalled. These airbags, when exposed to long-term heat and humidity, explode when deployed and turn small bits of the metal cartridge into high-velocity shrapnel.
Airbag defects are not uncommon. Takata’s recall is specific, but there are several failures that involve different components of a vehicle: the sensors can malfunction, or an electrical failure can occur.
Whatever the cause, consumers must stay apprised of important recall information.
Click here to check your vehicle for important recall information.
Are All Airbags Dangerous?
When a vehicle detects the impact of a moderate-to-severe collision, its electronic control system sends a signal to the inflator inside the airbag system. This signal causes an instant chemical reaction, rapidly filling the airbag with a harmless gas.
The whole process happens in less than 1/20th of a second.
Airbags are so rapid, however, that the force of impact can sometimes cause injury. Some people have been killed by airbags. Between 1990 and 2008, for example, 290 people were killed by frontal airbag inflation during low-speed collisions.
However, 90 percent of these deaths were in vehicles manufactured prior to 1998. And in more than 80 percent of the cases, the victims were not properly restrained by seat belts.
All that being said, seatbelts save more lives than not. Front-seat airbags saved 44,869 lives from 1990 to 2015, according to a recent study by the NHTSA.
In frontal collisions, airbags reduce driver fatalities by 29 percent and reduce front-seat passenger fatalities by 30 percent (where the passenger is at least 13 years old).
How to Protect Yourself from Injury
You can reduce your risk of airbag injury by following these safety tips:
- Sit as far back from the steering wheel/dashboard as possible. Experts recommend a distance of at least 10 inches.
- Shorter drivers can compensate for smaller leg length by reclining their seatback just slightly. (Additionally, most newer vehicles can detect the occupant’s distance from the column and adjust deployment force accordingly.)
- Sit upright in the center of your seat. Keep your feet on the floor.
- Never rest arms or legs against an airbag.
- Don’t place anything near an airbag that could be turned into a projectile when the airbag deploys.
- Never cover an airbag. (Don’t use aftermarket dashboard covers, for example.)
- Monitor airbag recalls.
- Always wear your seat belt properly — both the shoulder and the lap restraints.
Airbags and Child Safety
Children are vulnerable to airbag injury because frontal airbags are not designed for their smaller size and weight. Follow the rules below to avoid child injury:
- Never put an infant in the front seat.
- Children should always be properly positioned in car safety seats.
- Children under the age of 13 should always sit in rear seats.
- Rather than asking young children to buckle themselves in, do the buckling yourself.
- Teach children not to manipulate their seat belts. (No sliding their arm out from the shoulder restraint, for example.)
- Read your vehicle’s owner’s manual and follow specific instructions for child safety.
At the DeMayo Law Offices, we’re dedicated to keeping you and your family safe. We believe the best way to be prepared is to stay informed.