Airbag Malfunctions on
All new cars and light
trucks are equipped with supplemental inflatable restraints,
known as airbags. With the rapid proliferation of airbags there
has been a corresponding reduction in the severity of some crash-related
injuries, and many lives have been saved by airbags which function
Unfortunately, there has
been an alarming increase in the number of injuries and fatalities
reported as the result of airbags which malfunction and for
occupants who are not seated properly.
Failure to Deploy
Airbags are designed to deploy when a vehicle in forward motion decelerates rapidly. Most airbag systems are calibrated to sense vehicle deceleration corresponding to a frontal collision at speeds in excess of 20 to 25 mph. When airbags fail to deploy under these conditions, occupants do not have the benefit of protection they expect from the airbag.
Airbags sometimes deploy
at the wrong time. The inflation of an airbag is so sudden that
a driver may be distracted, disoriented or even knocked unconscious.
has ever seen an airbag deploy, because it happens in the blink
of an eye.
Don't Change that Station!
Serious accidents have been
caused by inadvertent deployment when vehicles hit a bump, pothole,
or for no apparent reason. Some GM vehicles with radio/tape
controls in the steering wheel have been recalled to correct
a chafing condition in the steering wheel wiring which may cause
the driver's airbag to deploy when the radio settings are changed.
Most airbag systems use
an inflator which, when operating properly, generates a harmless
gas to fill the bag. The bag contains vent holes, which allow
the gas to escape from the bag.
The bag is packed in talc, which may look like smoke after deployment.
The chemical propellant used to generate gas in an airbag module is similar to rocket fuel. As fuel and oxidized burn, small bits of reacting propellant may blow into the bag and be expelled from the vents.
Occupants have reported severe chemical burns on the face, neck and arms following airbag deployment. This occurs as a result of inadequate filtering of propellant as it leaves the gas generator module.
Injury from the bag itself
Experiencing the deployment of an airbag is somewhat like being hit in the face - very hard- by a pillow. Occupants have experienced eye injuries, facial abrasions, broken jaws, broken necks, and some of these injuries have been fatal.
Manufacturers now warn against
placing rear-facing infant seats in the front of a vehicle equipped
with a passenger-side airbag. Vehicles built since 2006 have
a sensor in the front passenger seat, designed to shut off the
passenger airbag when the seat is empty.
Failure to Deploy in a Second Collision
After a collision involving deployment of an airbag, the airbag and gas generator module cannot be used again. Most collision repair shops do a good job of replacing the airbag module and cover, and assuring that the system is ready to perform in any subsequent collision. Many collision repair shops sub-contract the airbag replacement to a specialist. In some cases, the replacement airbag module may not be installed or connected properly, leaving it inoperative.
Occupants out of position
Frontal airbags are designed to retard forward motion of the occupants' head and upper torso when they are seated upright behind the airbag. Injuries have been reported in cases where an airbag deploys and strikes an occupant who is in an unusual position.
This may apply to children standing on the front seat, sitting in an adult's lap, or occupants in a reclining position. Some manufacturers fail to adequately warn against these hazards.
As new models begin to appear
with side-impact airbags, rear occupant airbags, and active
pyrotechnic seatbelt pretensioners, we may expect to see more
accidental injuries if these products malfunction.
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