Have Airbags Increased Safety?

Airbags have been synonymous with safety in our automobiles for years. In fact, the car that we drive or ride in has at least two and more than 11 in some vehicles. But are airbags as safe as we are led to believe? In rare cases, airbags may cause injuries when deployed. Under these circumstances it is recommended to contact an auto accident lawyer who can help protect your rights.

The Airbag Evolution
Air bag patents have been around since the 1950s, and have dramatically changed over the years. The original design was triggered by a sensor in the bumper. However, auto-makers scrapped the project because using compressed air to fill airbags was not practical. 

In the 1970s the concept returned to auto-maker’s drawing boards where airbags were offered to the public in certain automobiles. Unfortunately, these early airbags resulted in injuries and fatalities that were caused by the airbags themselves.

In 1994 the first gas-inflated bag was introduced, and in 1998, airbags became mandatory in all cars. By 2000, auto-makers began discovering new ways to regulate the impact and power of how bags deployed. These new bags were being marketed as the ‘smart’ or ‘dual-staged’ bags.

The Anatomy of an Airbag Deployment
When sensors in an automobile determine that an impact is in progress, it communicates information to the Airbag Control Unit (ACU). The ACU determines at what point the impact will risk injury to its occupants and will ignite the gas in the airbags. The explosion propels the bags out of the steering wheel or dashboard at 200mph. This whole process takes place in only fractions of a second. Finally, just as the bags are fully inflated, the gases are released leaving behind deflated bags and non-toxic powders.

Airbags and the Risk of Injury
The immediate risk of injury from airbags themselves are in the initial burst-stage of the airbags. Since inflation of the airbag happens at its most powerful level in the first few inches of the initial deployment, it is at this crucial point that many injuries occur.

Children and occupants that are smaller in stature are normally positioned closer to the dash or steering wheel. They are also more easily affected by inertia during the sudden stop of an impact. As their body moves forward at a high rate of speed, the airbags explode out of their holding areas resulting in a high impact collision between the airbag and the upper torso and head. 

Despite the latest technology behind airbags, injuries continue to plague occupants involved in airbag-deployed accidents. According to the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, airbag deployment has also been implicated as the cause of thoracic or upper chest area injuries (not excluding organs such as heart and lungs) to unrestrained drivers. Cardiac and pulmonary complications can also occur from airbag deployment, as well as rib and sternum fractures. Burns, asthma or even a chemical induced pneumonia can develop from the products that deploy airbags.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lists that in 2011, over 21,000 occupants in cars died in traffic accidents – almost 12,000 were unrestrained. Over 22,000 lives were saved by frontal airbags in 2011. Yet, since 2003, over 200 vehicle occupants – mostly children – have lost their lives due to airbags. Not to exclude the exceeding amount of injuries from airbags during this same period.

With all of these efforts towards improving airbag safety, further improvements can be made in this area. In the end, improving the safety of yourself and loved ones is always of the utmost importance when getting behind the wheel of an automobile.