How Do Airbags Work?

Airbags can prevent injuries and deaths in car accidents. Frontal airbags prevented 50,457 fatalities from 1987 through 2017. Even more lives have been saved through the invention of side airbags and curtain airbags.

Some interesting facts about airbags from the IIHS include:

  • Front airbags are required on all passenger vehicles beginning with the model year 1999
  • Side airbags are not mandated
  • Front airbags reduce driver deaths by 29 percent and front-seat passenger deaths of people 13 years and older by 32 percent
  • Side airbags can reduce the risk of death for driver-side crashes by 37 percent when the airbags protect the driver’s head

Engineers continue to develop new airbags and better technology to increase the protection offered by airbags in a car accident.

How Do Airbags Work?

Airbags act as cushions to protect the driver and passengers from striking objects during a collision. They inflate when a collision triggers a sensor. The severity of the crash determines whether the sensor initiates airbag inflation. 

When the sensor is triggered, the system burns chemicals that inflate the airbag with inert gas. As the bag inflates, it blows the plastic cover off the steering wheel or other compartment. The bags are generally coated with talcum powder or other chalky substances to help them unwrap quickly and smoothly.

The entire process takes a fraction of a second. In the blink of an eye, a frontal airbag inflates to protect the person from hitting the dashboard or steering wheel. Side airbags can prevent an occupant from striking their head against the window or column. They also cushion blows from objects outside the vehicle, such as poles, trees, and other vehicles.

Airbags Are Supplemental Protection for a Crash

Airbags are designed to work with seatbelts to prevent injuries. They supplement the protection offered by the seatbelt; they do not replace it. Drivers and passengers are encouraged to wear seatbelts to increase the protection offered by airbags during a collision.

Are Airbags Dangerous?

There are reports of airbag injuries during collisions. A chemical reaction causes airbag inflation. If the chemicals escape into the interior of the vehicle, they could cause severe burns. The chemicals could also cause internal injuries if they are inhaled. 

Thermal burns are also possible from exposure to high-temperature gas from the explosion when the airbag inflates. The powders used on the airbags could also irritate eyes and lungs.

An airbag deploys at speeds of 100 mph. Therefore, a person could sustain head and neck injuries when the airbag deploys. Facial injuries and eye injuries are also common. Hearing damage may also occur from the loud explosion when the airbag inflates.

Some airbags are defective. Defective airbags could cause metal fragments or shards to fly into the vehicle toward occupants. Those metal fragments and shards become dangerous projectiles that can cause severe injuries.

In some cases, an airbag might not inflate when it should. The delay in the airbag inflation could result in injuries that could have been prevented had the airbag deployed immediately. 

Who is Responsible When an Airbag Causes an Injury?

The responsible party depends on why the airbag caused an injury. If the airbag was defective, the airbag manufacturer might be liable for damages. However, if the airbag malfunctioned because of a problem with the installation, the car manufacturer could be liable.

For example, if the car manufacturer installs the wires that connect the sensors to the airbag components incorrectly, the airbag may not deploy. In that case, the car manufacturer could be liable for damages because of a defect in the manufacturing process.

A repair shop or mechanic could be liable for damages if they improperly installed a new airbag after the original airbag deployed in an accident. Airbags that deploy must be replaced. Faulty installation could cause someone to be injured if the vehicle is involved in another collision.

Some parties may be held strictly liable for damages caused by defective airbags. Other parties may be held liable under a negligence claim. Damages for an airbag injury claim could include loss of income, medical bills, disfigurement, pain, and suffering.

Are Airbags Safe to Use?

Overall, airbags have been shown to decrease the risk of severe injuries and wrongful death in car crashes when installed and used correctly. Car owners should read and follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines for airbags. 

If an airbag causes an injury, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and damages. A personal injury lawyer can review your case and provide an assessment of your legal options. 

However, your time to file a claim is limited. Waiting too long to seek legal advice about an airbag injury could mean you cannot pursue a claim for compensation. 

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