Sometimes, inventions that were designed to make us safer, and which actually do save lives, can also cause injury. Such is the case for the automobile airbag, the device designed to protect us from impact when we are involved in a high-speed car accident. Although effective at saving lives, the airbag also can present a significant risk of injury when it does not work properly.
How Airbags Work
Airbags are so effective at saving lives that cars today now have multiple, often on the sides of the car, and around the passenger as well as the driver. Some estimates show airbags reduce the risk of fatalities by 30%.
The airbag works on simple principles. When you crash, your car stops moving but your body does not. The result is your head and face smashing against the car’s interior. The airbag is designed to cushion that blow, and slow your head and face’s forward progress.
Computer chips tell the airbag when the car’s acceleration has been dramatically slowed, and inflate the airbag. The bag inflates in a fraction of a second—literally, faster than the blink of an eye. The solid propellant used to inflate the bag and the immediacy of the inflation is akin to the way solid rocket boosters operate.
All this is just inches from our heads and faces at all times. So it is no wonder that serious injury can result when things go wrong with an airbag.
Recalls and Injuries By Defective Airbags
An investigation has recently been opened into a manufacturer of airbags, ARC automotive. This comes on the heels of a recent slew of recalls ordered by another manufacturer, Takata. Takata airbags have been linked to a number of deaths and injuries, and 64 million Takata airbags have been recalled.
Investigators are trying to see if a defect in an ARC bag lead to the death of a Canadian driver in the previous month. The driver died when his airbag opened during a low-speed crash.
This is a common problem for airbags. Even in a high-speed collision an airbag can cause injury, but normally that injury is better than the alternative of what would happen to your head if there has been no airbag. The same force that the airbags use to protect you in a high speed collision, can be deadly when applied during a low speed collision.
Of course, the opposite malfunction can occur also—bags can simply fail to deploy at all, even during high impact cases.
Takata’s recall addressed another concern involving the inflation with too much force. Some Takata bags are alleged to have inflated with such force that they actually blew pieces of metal canisters in the steering wheel’s column into the faces of victims. In one case, one of those pieces lodged into a driver’s neck, killing her, in an impact that experts say would have been otherwise survivable.
Causes and Safety
Because there are so many elements to a working airbag, causes of a defect can be difficult to find. Certainly, computer errors with the accelerometer chip can create improper inflations. But compounds used in airbags can also deteriorate over time, or with humidity, also leading to defects.
There are some safety precautions that you can use to minimize injury by airbags.
Try to make sure that your body is more than three to four inches from the steering wheel when you are driving. Try to move your seat back as far as you comfortably can. If possible, try to have the center of the steering wheel, where the bag deploys, facing your chest instead of your face.
This all may be harder for shorter drivers. The adjustability of the steering wheel and driving position are things you should consider when shopping for a new car. The same goes for the size of the back seats—cramped back seats can lead drivers to move their seats closer forward towards the steering wheel.
It should go without saying that seat belts should always be used; the belts can prevent your face and body from getting too close to the bags when they deploy.
Airbags can be deadly to younger children. Remember to be mindful of whether your car has passenger side airbags when it comes to children. Many parents will put kids in carseats facing backwards, but that could subject them to the side airbags if they deploy. In fact, Hyundai just issued a recall for defective airbags in part on concerns that passenger side airbags were deploying on low impact, thus risking injury to children in carseats.
However, the side or curtain airbags that are usually located in the back seats, are generally considered to be safe for children.
Suing for Defective Deployment
Remember that airbags are products, like any other product, and consumers have a right to sue when they are defective and cause injury.
One important reminder is that if your airbag does deploy, and you suspect it did so improperly, do not have it reinstalled before an attorney looks it over. Once a technician reinstalls a new airbag, the evidence of the defect could be ruined.
Because airbags are so highly technical, with so many things that can go wrong, simply bringing lawsuit saying the airbag did something improper is not enough. An expert has to be able to look over the deployed bag and investigate it to find a cause for the defect.
If you have been injured by a defective airbag or any other malfunctioning or defective product, contact attorneys that understand how these cases work. The attorneys at Brill & Rinaldi are available for a free consultation to discuss your injuries and your case.