Before air bags, people frequently suffered injuries as a result of slamming against the steering wheel and the dashboard and windshield of the car, particularly in head-on collisions.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that the combination of seat belts and air bags have reduced vehicle accident deaths by 24 percent. Since 1998, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has required that cars contain front seat air bags on both the driver’s and passenger’s sides.
Nevertheless, experts say that air bags should usually be turned off when children are riding because air bags cause more harm than good for child passengers. These experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), advise that air bags are for adults and that children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat.
Some parents believe children will be safe in the front seat if they are placed in a safety seat that faces the rear. This is also dangerous. If the air bag deploys, it will push the child’s seat with force and probably cause injury to the child’s head.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released a list of vehicles with air bags that are believed to be safest for children.
Air bags also do not make seat belts obsolete. The shoulder and lap belt needs to be worn by anyone riding in the front seat, regardless of the air bags. Moving the front seat farther back can help to prevent air bag injuries to older children who ride in the front seat.
Air bags are constantly being studied to try to come up with better designs that provide cushioning against impact without causing further injury.
Air Bag Basics
Front air bags are contained in the steering wheel and the dashboard for front seat drivers and passengers only. Side air bags designed to protect the torso are usually placed between the seat and the door, and side air bags for the protection of the head (called “curtain air bags”) are usually contained over the windows within the roof of the car. Some newer model cars even include side air bags in the rear seats.
Air bags are actually a complete system that consists of impact sensors and a unit that controls the deployment of the air bags. When the sensor detects a crash, an electrical current from the controls causes the bag to fill with nitrogen gas, which pushes the bag from its compartment to cushion the person in the seat. The process is very fast, of course – about 30 milliseconds. The sensors are supposed to react only if there is an impact of a particular velocity. The sensors largely determine this by how quickly the vehicle slows down. The harder the impact, the faster the car will stop.
While the idea for the air bag was conceived in the 1950’s, it took a long time to figure out how to make the idea work. The biggest problem was making the air bag mechanism capable of detecting an impact, and the next most difficult dilemma was making it deploy quickly enough. At that time, technology was just not up to the task. In the 1960’s, there was some progress, but when Ford Motor Company tried to install air bags in the 1970’s, crash tests proved that they would be fatal to children.
General Motors was the first auto manufacturer to break through the technology barriers and make air bags available to the public in the 1970s, but they did not take off in the marketplace. Mercedes-Benz then made air bags an option in 1984. Finally, there was some success. Then, in the 1990s, government regulations made it mandatory to have automatic seat belts or air bags in vehicles.
When an Air Bag Causes Injuries
Air bags in front of the driver’s seat are about the size of beach balls when they are inflated, while passenger seat air bags are larger to account for the fact that there is no steering wheel in the dashboard on the passenger’s side. During inflation, dust and chemicals are also released, and these have been known to irritate the skin, eyes, and/or lungs, even causing asthma attacks. Air bags have also been known to cause burns and cuts.
The impact sensors can fail, either not deploying during a crash or deploying at the wrong time. If someone is driving at a reasonably high speed on a highway, and an air bag inflates even though there has not been a crash, the driver will undoubtedly lose control of the car.
The timing is a very important aspect of the air bag system’s mechanism. If it deploys too late, the occupant’s head will have been forced front and lower in the vehicle, causing the air bag to make contact with the head and cause injury. If the air bag makes contact with a passenger’s eye, the injuries can be severe.
This can happen, of course, if someone’s head just happens to be too far forward when the impact occurs. In that case, there would probably be no product liability claim. Lawsuits against the auto-maker are viable only if the air bag malfunctioned in some way or is found to be improperly designed. Some form of negligence must be proven on the part of the manufacturer of either the car or the manufacturer of the air bags (or both). (In some cases, the entity that inspected the air bags might even be named as a defendant if they failed to see a defect.) Otherwise, the only claim would be against the person who caused the car accident itself and would not be related to air bags.
In one case, defective ignition switches caused air bags to deactivate in 2.6 million General Motors cars, and GM had to recall the vehicles. There have also been more than 140 deaths in front collisions in the Chevrolet Impala models 2000 to 2010 because the air bags did not deploy after an impact.
Toyota recalled more than 800,000 vehicles in the U.S. as a result of air bag defects. These are just a couple of the recalls that have occurred due to faulty air bags.
Certain law firms specialize in air bag defect cases and can be especially helpful to people who believe they have been injured because their air bags did not function properly.
If you have been injured because of a defective air bag please visit http://www.feldmanshepherd.com/3-23-practice-Defective-Air-Bags.php