Airbags are a relatively new addition to the passenger automobile. Since the 1950s, various automobile manufacturers have introduced different inflatable safety devises. Eventually, it was mandated that all cars manufactured after 1984 include an airbag or other crash protection system. Now, cars include not only driver and passenger airbags, but side and even rear bags too. Ford Motorcars has even launched seatbelt airbags.
The basic purpose of an airbag is to cushion the passenger during a significant automobile incident. When the car stops suddenly, a sensor sends an electric charge which results in a chemical reaction and the airbag explodes. This chemical reaction generates nitrogen and only takes about 40 milliseconds to inflate. Once the bag is inflated, it acts as a shield to protect the occupant from striking the vehicle.
Airbag defects have been documented in several different ways. Many times the airbag deploys during a very minor accident and causes injury to the passenger. Other times, the airbag fails to explode during a significant crash. Finally, there can be problems associated with the installation or materials used in the airbag.
Improper explosion: The sensors in an airbag must be designed to ignite the airbag only when necessary, during major accidents as opposed to minor fender-benders or for no reason at all. This defect can result in injury to passengers by the airbag itself, when an injury would not otherwise occur in an accident.
Failure to explode: Unfortunately, some airbags fail to explode at all. This can result due to a defective sensor or improper packing. In addition, it is illegal to repack an airbag. Once the airbag explodes it must be replaced.
Improper material or construction: The United States federal government mandates material used in airbag construction. The materials used to construct and fill the airbags must meet certain standards. Airbag defects result when these standards are not followed.
In America, thousands of lives are saved each year by airbags. Unfortunately, airbags have also been attributed to approximately 60 deaths a year, with 50 percent of the deaths being children. However, some failures cannot be detected during safety tests. The Nissan Altima's airbag caused serious eye injury at a rate of 20 times higher than competitor’s airbags though no problems were noted during testing, as dummy's cannot evaluate blindness and/or eye irritation.
Examples of several defective airbags are detailed below.
Autoliv, an airbag manufacturer, states airbag issues can vary based on installation. Many individuals have reported experiencing significant hearing loss after having an airbag deploy near their head. These issues cannot always be identified using a crash test dummy.
The 1997-1999 Cadillac DeVilles were recalled for self-imploding side airbags. The airbags would explode without any reason. The manufacturer was sued by customers for not having the proper replacement part to correct this defect. Those injured due to defective airbags may wish to seek compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering due to faulty airbags.
The 2001 Saturn L-Series was recalled for possible defective airbags. The air bags were filled with too much or too little generate. If the bag had too much, it would violently explode and injur the passenger. If too little was present, the bag would fail to explode.