Airbag Failure and Personal Injury

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is set to examine reports of inadvertent airbag deployment and airbag failure in the Hyundai Elantra from 2001 to 2003. It was reported that two people were killed in a car accident when their airbags failed to deploy. It is estimated that airbags were responsible for more than 250 deaths since 1990. Though airbags were available as early as the beginning of the 1980’s, it wasn’t until 1990 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began tracking fatalities and injuries associated with airbags. A recent investigation by the Kansas City Star found that up to 1,400 people have died from airbag failures between 2001 and 2006 alone. The disparity in numbers is possibly linked to the NHTSA’s lack on investigations into reported airbag failures. According to the Kansas City Star’s report, there were only 50 investigations into reported airbag failures from 1996 to 2006.

Driver side airbags were not required for U.S. cars until 1994 and passenger side airbags were not required until 1998. During a front impact car accident, the occupants of the car can lurch forward. Airbags are designed to stop forward movement during a car accident to prevent the occupants from colliding with the windshield or steering wheel. Frontal airbags are intended to deploy during moderate to severe front end collisions. A moderate or severe car accident is one equivalent to a car hitting a wall at 8 to 14 miles per hour, or a parked car 16 to 28 miles per hour. Naturally, when an airbag fails to deploy or inadvertently deploys it can cause serious personal injury or death.

There are three primary ways in which an airbag is likely to fail:

1) The airbag fails to deploy during a front end collision or it deploys too late. An airbag failure of this kind can result in a passenger knocking their head on the steering wheel or windshield, or it can result in a passenger’s sternum colliding with the steering wheel. Such a failure can cause serious personal injury or fatality in the event of a car accident.

2) The airbag inadvertently deploys without an accident; this can actually cause an accident by distracting the driver or knocking the driver unconscious, possibly resulting in further and more serious personal injury.

3) The chemicals used to deploy the airbag leak, and burn the occupants when the airbag deploys.

Airbag associated personal injuries are not always a result of airbag failures. Injuries have also been known to occur from proper deployment. Those who have been in a moderate or severe front end collision know the kind of force airbags produce. During an accident, airbags deploy at speeds of roughly 200 miles per hour. If the driver or passengers are not properly seated during an accident, an airbag deployment can cause eye injuries, broken bones and serious brain injuries. That is why it is important to read all vehicle safety instructions and owner’s manuals that come with your automobile. Always maintain a 10 inch distance between your chest and the airbag cover, and always wear a seatbelt. Though New Hampshire state law does not require adults use seatbelts, studies have shown the combination of seatbelts and airbags offer the highest level of protection from personal injury for passengers and drivers.

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